BBCSO/Oramo review – sweeping, shattering, and totally at home

Barbican, London
Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony explored the darkness in Elgar’s Second and Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, while the UK premiere of Anna Clyne’s The Seamstress injected a delightful freshness

In his decade as music director of the CBSO, Sakari Oramo seized every opportunity he could to perform 20th-century British music, and he has brought that enthusiasm to his concerts as the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor. The main work in his latest all-British Barbican programme was one that he never performed in Birmingham; though he conducted magnificent performances of Elgar’s First Symphony there, the Second somehow eluded him.

Since then, though, Oramo has made a fine recording of the work with his orchestra in Stockholm, and the sweeping, imposing performance that he delivered with the BBCSO was that of a conductor totally at home with the work, who has absorbed completely the complexities of what is surely the greatest of all English symphonies and reconciled its contradictions. Nothing was trivialised or glossed over; every detail was there, but so too was every emotional extreme, and the climaxes in the outer movements were shattering.

The BBCSO played superbly, and Oramo also made full use of the wonderfully refined string sound and hushed pianissimos in George Butterworth’s orchestral rhapsody A Shropshire Lad – an equally unflinching performance that totally avoided pastoral cosiness while it explored the work’s darker and more troubled undercurrents.

Jennifer Koh.
Jennifer Koh. Photograph: Jürgen Frank

There was also the UK premiere of a violin concerto by Anna Clyne, with Jennifer Koh as the soloist. The last product of Clyne’s five-year term as composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the concerto borrows more than its title, The Seamstress, from a poem by WB Yeats; each of the 10 sections is headed by a line from the poem, while ghosts of fiddle tunes, especially in the solo-violin lines, underline the Irish connection. Clyne has a knack of writing music of great immediacy and surface attraction; in the concerto she shows that she can invest what is relatively traditional violin writing with real freshness too.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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