BBCSO/Chauhan review – mercurial and devil-may-care visions of Scotland

Streamed live from the Barbican, London
Alpesh Chauhan balanced energy with elegance in Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony and found exuberance and emotion in works by Maxwell Davies and Beamish

Echoes of Scotland was the title of Alpesh Chauhan’s streamed concert with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, part of the ongoing Live from the Barbican series, which runs until July. The programme examined differing ideas of Scotland as a source of inspiration for composers associated with the country but not actually born there. Mendelssohn’s romantic “Scottish” Symphony, No 3 in A Minor, dating from 1842, was juxtaposed with Sally Beamish’s brooding, elegiac Third Viola Concerto, Under the Wing of the Rock (2006), and the exuberance of Peter Maxwell Davies’s An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise (1985).

Chauhan is a fine Mendelssohn interpreter, balancing energy with elegance, keenly alert to the music’s understated drama and mercurial changes of mood. So the refined melancholy and turbulence of the Symphony’s opening contrasted with the brilliance of the scherzo, while the warmth of the Adagio offset the assertion of the finale with its grand, exultant coda. Chauhan kept the textures clean and clear, and there was some wonderfully focused playing, above all from the BBCSO woodwind.

Timothy Ridout, viola, streamed live from the Barbican Hall on 25 April 2021.
Timothy Ridout, viola, streamed live from the Barbican Hall on 25 April 2021. Photograph: Mark Allan

Timothy Ridout, meanwhile, was the soloist in Beamish’s Under the Wing of the Rock, which takes its title and narrative from an anonymous Gaelic lullaby dealing with the aftermath of the Glencoe massacre and the decision of one of the perpetrating officers to spare the life of a mother and child fleeing the atrocity. A work of austere beauty that traces an emotional arc from grief to tentative hope and acceptance, it suits Ridout’s lyrical style down to the ground, and his performance was touching in its quiet, reflective intensity.

In contrast, Maxwell Davies’s picture-postcard recording of a wedding on Hoy and the sunrise that brings the revels to an end is a genuine party piece, rooted in Scottish folk music (though it also veers at times towards swing) and closing in a blaze of light as bagpipes usher in the new day. The scoring is nothing if not virtuoso, a superb display of instrumental colour that allows each orchestral section prominence in turn. It was done with terrific panache and wit, and a devil-may-care exuberance and boisterousness that was utterly engaging.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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