BBCSO/Oramo review – Glanert premiere vividly realised

Barbican, London
Works by Nielsen and Sibelius preceded Detlev Glanert’s beguiling Megaris, with its bursts of cartoonish fun and stretches of languor

Sakari Oramo has been the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s chief conductor for nearly four years – and the extraordinary intimacy of their rapport was showcased here. Switching between baton and bare hands, limbs constantly whirling, Oramo seemed to be physically sculpting the BBCSO’s sound. The orchestra was ultra-responsive and hyper-focused.

Such single-minded performance from vast forces can be powerful. But it also subjects everything on the music stand to considerable pressure. Nielsen’s oddly proportioned Rhapsodic Overture, A Fantasy Journey to the Faroe Isles, felt even more misshapen under Oramo’s intense expressive scrutiny. Sibelius’s four-part Lemminkäinen Suite, Op 22 fared better. There were exhilarating transformations of orchestral tone from sensuous gleaming to muted iciness, high-gloss big-tune string unisons, and almost recklessly forthright woodwind and cello solos. But the uncompromising density of sound was also oppressive and the persistent magnification of minutiae verged on fussy.

The UK premiere of Detlev Glanert’s Megaris (Seascape With Siren’s Last Lament) was another matter. From the keening, uncannily melded clarinet and off-stage soprano of its beginning to an almost inaudible final gong stroke, Glanert’s work generously repaid the performers’ close attention. Beguiling resonances emerged between the orchestra and the wordless voices of the BBC Singers, alongside distant echoes of past musical seascapes. Passages of cartoonish rhythmic fun mutated into wholesale languor; a central climactic orchestral stampede vanished with only a gong left ringing.

Megaris is a piece built on vivid details. In this unfailingly committed performance in the composer’s presence, each one was polished, illuminated and given space to shine.

Contributor

Flora Willson

The GuardianTramp

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