The short Coda events after BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concerts are becoming a vital part of the overall offering. This evening’s performance of George Butterworth’s settings of six songs from AE Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, eerily foretelling the composer’s own death at the Somme in 1916, put Royal Conservatoire of Scotland student Christopher Nairne in the spotlight. Though undoubtedly heartfelt, a little more weight in the voice would have helped, while Scott Mitchell accompanied sympathetically.
Two other works by Butterworth, his English Idylls, opened the main concert. Based on sometimes bawdy folk tunes, the first seemed to suffer from a little too much symphony orchestra sophistication. Thought the second was more successful, a rustic yearning quality being more apparent.
With the soloist for the evening unwell, there was a change of artist and programme. At very short notice Akiko Suwanai made her BBC SSO debut in Sibelius’s Violin Concerto. This is a work that often feels icy, brittle, rather austere. Not in this performance. Suwanai produced a full-bodied, singing tone throughout. Much of the darkness that lurks in the music was swept away. The result was engrossing but perhaps not what Sibelius intended.
It was back to matters bucolic after the interval with Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the ‘Pastoral’. Here conductor Andrew Manze seemed in his element. Despite his slightly idiosyncratic conducting style, the first movement emerged as an unhurried, sun-dappled stroll in the countryside, and he conjured magic particularly from the strings in the Scene by the Brook. Happiness seems an inadequate word to describe the dancing of the villagers in the third movement, though that was undoubtedly the dominant feeling. After the shock of the Thunder Storm had the merrymakers scurrying for cover, and despite a rather fudged transition, the final movement emerged thankful and joyful, with a satisfying unanimity of sound.
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