BBCSO/Oramo review – luminous and mesmerising

Live streamed from the Barbican, London
A programme that featured the world premiere of a chamber version of Magnus Lindberg’s Accused alongside music by Anna Clyne and Haydn saw the BBCSO and its chief conductor at their best.

The 90th birthday of the BBC Symphony Orchestra last month inevitably went the way of many other celebrations this year. BBCSO’s establishment in 1930 as London’s first permanent salaried orchestra might leave us struggling today – amid the pandemic’s cultural and economic devastation – to imagine such a bold, creative response to massive economic downturn. But the orchestra’s first live concert of this autumn – streamed from an empty Barbican Hall with its chief conductor Sakari Oramo on the podium – was an understated showcase of a musical institution at its best. (One can only hope some politicians were watching.)

Within Her Arms, Anna Clyne’s soft-focus elegy for 15 solo strings in memory of her mother, was a poignant opener. Its simple motifs echo and blur across the ensemble in a slow-moving, all-enveloping glow; to convince, it demands exquisite sound quality from each musician and a seamless blend from the ensemble as a whole. This performance was spellbindingly tender. The enchantment held into the slow first movement of Haydn’s Symphony No 49, “La Passione”, its soundworld unexpectedly continuous with Clyne’s, the tone quality luminous. The fast movements were featherweight but incisive, the minuet achingly stylish – pianissimos so quiet they were barely there – while Oramo was a graceful, smiling delight to watch.

A delight to watch... BBCSO chief conductor Sakari Oramo
A delight to watch... BBCSO chief conductor Sakari Oramo Photograph: Mark Allan

The world premiere of a new orchestration of Magnus Lindberg’s Accused for soprano and chamber orchestra was tougher, but unforgettable. It sets interrogation transcripts of three historic political trials – as Oramo said in his introduction, “if you want a piece that is really relevant to today, this is it”. Its textures mesmerise: moments of orchestral voluptuousness alternate with delicate near-silence, double-reeds gossip nastily, open-stringed violas join forces with low woodwind in passages of gritty darkness. The gleaming steel of Anu Komsi’s soprano cut through all of it, fearlessly communicative and utterly compelling, from the whispered bottom of her voice to its stratospheric top.

• Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 30 November and then on demand on BBC Sounds.

Contributor

Flora Willson

The GuardianTramp

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