BBC SSO / Böhm

Ayr Town Hall

So many times in the past, a programme by the BBC SSO geared primarily for its Glasgow City Halls’ home has either proved unsuitable for its repeat in Ayr, or is downscaled to suit the acoustical constraints of the smaller venue. This programme, however, was already of perfect dimensions and may even have benefitted more from the intimate warmth this bijou municipal venue favours. 

The larger-scored of the works – Prokofiev’s feverishly sweet Violin Concerto No 2 and Schubert’s crystalline Fifth Symphony – are hardly symbols of orchestral brute force. Instead, Prokofiev’s concerto, played here by the characterful Dutch-born violinist Rosanne Philippens, pits a zestful protagonist against a mutable kaleidoscopic spray of orchestral colour, its spiced delicacies only marginally threatened by the irksome persistence of the bass drum. Schubert’s Fifth looks back to Beethoven and Mozart, lithe and cheery, softened by the composer’s instinctive lyrical genius.

The young Austro-Spanish conductor Teresa Riveiro Böhm was in many ways a refreshing presence on the rostrum. A few years ago she spent time at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland  on a Leverhulme Conducting Fellowship that included mentorship via the BBC SSO, and has recently been appointed associate conductor at Welsh National Opera. On this latest evidence she was a visibly safe pair of hands, clear and precise with a decisive spring in her step. 

That certainly helped energise the Prokofiev, which was rhythmically catching and where conductor and soloist shared a mutual spark. Philippens was the prominent driving force, her fiery outer movements dancing to the music’s sardonic pleasures, contrasted in turn by the bittersweet tensions of the central Andante. Böhm’s handling of the orchestral balance wasn’t always as acute as it could have been, some of the most sensitive delights lost to what seemed a textural free-for-all. Philippens endorsed her dazzling persona with a Romanian folk-inspired encore by Enescu. 

Böhm’s Schubert did her far greater justice. Elegance and crispness underpinned her vision, as well as a far greater control of motivic interaction as the directional force. The slow movement may have underplayed Schubert’s prescribed “con moto”, but there was ample poetic soul in the lingering, lyrical lines to give it meaning and bearing. It was the expressive heart of a performance whose opening and closing Allegros harnessed natural, life-giving energy, and whose Menuetto was as naturally breezy as it was tightly disciplined.

Both works alternated with refreshing curiosities by female composers. The opener was by Bacewicz, her Divertimento for string orchestra, written four years before her death in 1965. Its combination of beguiling modernism, as influenced by fellow Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki, with the pragmatic austerity of, say, Bartok or Hindemith, had clearly reached a point of magical synthesis by this stage in her life. The SSO strings captured that well in an incisive performance, clinically assertive in the outer movements, conjuring up an air of unworldly suspension in the central Adagio.

The Schubert was prefaced by the UK premiere of Lera Auerbach’s Eterniday (a linguistic elision of “eternity” and day”), which the American composer wrote in 2010 in response to the loss of her sketches the previous year in a fire at her New York studio. Formatted like a Baroque concert grosso, the central solo quintet vying with the larger surrounding ripieno, it represents, according to the composer, “something everlasting and fragile, yet blended together into one”.

Sure enough, the sound world is outwardly translucent with a heated density countering its natural inclination to float away into the ether. There’s drama in the series of fearsome, coruscating crescendos, abruptly shut off as they reach deafening point to reveal awesome punctuating silences. The impact of a glistening celeste diametrically opposed to the menacing cipher of the bass drum adds a signature surprise. 

Like everything else on Friday, it was of a scale that blossomed in this compact venue. 

Ken Walton