Music review: BBC SSO, Gemma New and Geneva Lewis, City Halls, Glasgow

Led by a highly impressive Kiwi double-act, this was a warm and spirited performance form the SSO, writes Ken Walton

BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow *****

Gemma New is one to watch. So is the remarkable violinist Geneva Lewis. Both hail from New Zealand, and both featured in a warm and spirited programme by the BBC SSO. New, who is principal conductor of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, proved a dynamic operator, with an animated, swashbuckling style that clicked magically with the players. Lewis, a Radio 3 Young Generation Artist, asserted her own vitality, but with an alluring air of composure.

That was in the central performance they shared of Barber’s Violin Concerto, a work of intense beauty, the protracted lyrical elasticity of its opening moments cast brutally aside by the ferocious brevity of the finale. Lewis captured the narrative perfectly, easeful perfection and subdued ecstasy in the Allegro, a deliciously poetic response to the oboe’s plaintive introduction in the Andante, and a blistering moto perpetuo Presto that took no prisoners.

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New exacted the perfect response from the SSO, sumptuously supportive, imaginatively characterised and, in the end, dancing impishly to the verve of Barber’s sidestepping rhythms.

The programme opened with a more recent American compositional voice, Sarah Gibson’s warp & weft. Inspired by the fabric creations of Canadian-born feminist artist Miriam Shapiro, and acknowledging her own titular reference to the process of weaving, Gibson creates a vivid double axis of musical images, a tapestry of vivid orchestral colourings in which seamless “horizontal” melodic strands are enlivened by the “vertical”, at times funky, harmonies.

It’s a sun-filled piece, mercurial and provocative, with an unexpected throwaway ending. New embraced its novelty and unpredictability with magnetic insight and conviction.

Her Brahms’ Fourth Symphony was equally enlightening. To some extent out of the old school – spacious and big-boned – it was nonetheless scintillatingly buoyant and pristine, intricately coloured, conductor and orchestra swaying literally and metaphorically as one.

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