Music review: BBC SSO & Ryan Wigglesworth, City Halls, Glasgow

Ryan Wigglesworth’s excellent first concert as the BBC SSO’s chief conductor served as a powerful omen of what’s in store, writes Ken Walton

BBC SSO & Ryan Wigglesworth, City Halls, Glasgow ****

As the official opener to Ryan Wigglesworth’s tenure as chief conductor of the BBC SSO, and as the orchestra’s new season launch, this programme pulled out all the stops. A new work by the young Jonathan Woolgar, Messiaen’s ravishing love songs Poèmes pour Mi and Ravel’s delirious Daphnis and Chloe together made a statement that, under Wigglesworth, we should expect ambitious and adventurous times.

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Nor did Thursday’s concert lack visual adornment, though the random LED strips and copper-dome spotlights – like curios bought off eBay – were most likely for television purposes, given this was being filmed for later screening.

Ryan Wigglesworth at City Halls, Glasgow PIC: BBC / Gordon Burniston
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Present, too, was the cohesive powerhouse of the BBC Singers, 36 voices that sound like 100, but more impressively – as in the sumptuous simplicity of Messiaen’s motet O sacrum convivium which prefaced the love songs – possessing a magical, homogenous intensity.

If anything was unplanned, it was the late substitution of Canadian soprano Jane Archibald for an indisposed Sophie Bevan in Poèmes pour Mi. But as someone who has sung these with the Berlin Philharmonic, no less, the dreamy, ecstatic outcome came as no surprise. The entire performance was blissful, Wigglesworth teasing out Messiaen’s succulent, crystalline textures from an obliging SSO, Archibald flavouring the varying moods with evocative – if very occasionally underpowered – sensitivity.

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This followed the world premiere of Woolgar’s Symphonic Message in Memory of LR, the initials referring to his former school drama teacher. From its restless mood swings from sparky belligerence to dark whimsy, we should assume she was a flamboyant inspiration.

Wigglesworth’s grandest statement came in the Ravel, a performance meticulously engineered and seething with excitable colours and some sensational playing, especially late on from the flutes. The odd horn misfire rocked the boat, but all in all, a powerful omen of what’s in store at the SSO.