City Halls, Glasgow
At last, a streamed orchestral concert for this age of lockdown that I genuinely felt comfortable watching.
There were several reasons. Unlike the main diet of BBC Proms relayed from a dark and cavernous Royal Albert Hall so far this year, this BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra programme, experienced via BBC Sounds, came from a cosier, brighter City Halls in Glasgow. Rather than detached emptiness, there was palpable warmth and intimacy. Slick and sensitive camera work helped.
As did the music – a luxuriant framework of string serenades by one George Walker (1922-2018, and the first black American to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music) and Richard Strauss respectively, embracing the clean-cut dexterity of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 2 and an impressively confident BBC commission by Scots composer Jay Capperauld.
Throw in the abundance of expressive warmth expressed by a reduced SSO under its new associate conductor Alpesh Chauhan (stepping in last minute for chief conductor Thomas Dausgaard), a helpful, to-the-point presentation style from Kate Molleson, and the spirit of inclusive congeniality was complete.
It was an important moment for New Cumnock-born Capperauld, fast emerging as an exciting new kid on the block. Circadian Refrains (172 Days Until Dawn) arises from his own experience of the past six months, referring to the number of days spent in personal lockdown.
Circadian Refrains is, on the face of it, a straightforward musical representation of darkness into light, but within that, Capperauld’s intuitive grasp of the interplay of textures, his disciplined manipulation of essentially simple – therefore memorable – ideas, are what give this work its affecting sense of personality.
This world premiere was enthralling from the offset, amorphous rumblings that gather ethereal substance through glassy string harmonics and woodwind flutters, before awakening horn fanfares (the one smidgeon of awkwardly written material) point the way to an inevitable knee-trembling climax, and swift subsidence to near nothing.
It was also a resounding success for Chauhan, whose intelligent, unmannered baton style was as instrumental in extracting the lush Barber-esque Romanticism from Walker’s Lyric for Strings, in accommodating soloist Stephen Hough’s intellectual assuredness in a springy but authoritative Beethoven Concerto, and in knitting together the passionate layers of Strauss’ Metamorphosen, in a mostly ravishing performance by the SSO strings.
Are we going to see much more of Coventry-based Chauhan this season than was originally intended, given the growing issue of getting overseas conductors into the country? On this evidence, that might be no bad thing.