BBC SSO / Wigglesworth
City Halls, Glasgow
Whether it was always planned as such is still an open question, but the announcement of the appointment of composer/conductor Ryan Wigglesworth to succeed Thomas Dausgaard at the artistic helm of the BBC Scottish happily coincided with the Beeb’s celebrations of its centenary with concerts by all its performing groups on Radio 3, combining the music of the 1920s with that of the 2020s.
As Wigglesworth told VoxCarnyx last week, that was an interesting brief, and his programme came up with one of the weekend’s best answers to it, with a composition of his own representing our own time and three contrasting but complementary works from the 20th century.
His Five Waltzes for viola and orchestra have had an organic gestation since three of them began as piano pieces written on the occasion of the birth of his son, Raphael two years ago. After becoming a five-movement duet with violist Lawrence Power, the toddler was orchestrated for this occasion for a small ensemble with no upper strings replacing the piano. The soloist was the SSO’s principal viola Scott Dickinson, and the framing outer movements in particular seemed to owe something to the Modernism audible elsewhere in the evening.
The original trio are like snapshots or audio postcards and their piano origins were often still clear in the scoring, but the instrumentation always left plenty of space for the virtuosic solo line.
The concert’s other soloist was Katherine Broderick, whose powerful soprano was perfect for Berg’s Three Fragments from Wozzeck and Richard Strauss’s Hymn to Love, the evening’s nod towards Valentine’s Day. A Wagnerian who boasts a fine catalogue of 20th century song recordings, she bridged the gap between high Romanticism and Modernism with deceptive ease. Delightfully animated in the Strauss, she soared over the full orchestration in both.
If the Berg inevitably made one long for the full score, that was partly because of Wigglesworth’s attention to the details in what we heard. Especially in the compelling string playing in the final extract, here was evidence that this partnership between conductor and orchestra could be a highly rewarding one.
The least familiar piece of the evening was the opening work, Kurt Weill’s Quodlibet, which proved a real gem. That catch-all, almost dismissive, title hides a dramatic four-movement suite derived from a ballet score, Zaubernacht, that Weill composed as a student. With loads of opportunity for solo cameos across the orchestra, theatrical use of percussion and a very busy timpani part, the music is both clearly of its time (the early 1920s) and full of pre-echoes of Weill’s later work for the stage, particularly The Threepenny Opera.
Available on BBC Sounds