Opera + Classical Music Reviews

BBCSO/Gourlay @ Barbican Hall, London

19 January 2012

What does an orchestra do when their guest conductor is unavailable and they need a replacement at short notice? This was the dilemma facing the BBC Symphony Orchestra when Thomas Dausgaard had to withdraw from this concert due to illness. The orchestra?s solution was to invite the young and relatively unknown Andrew Gourlay to lead the concert. Gourlay, not yet 30, has been Assistant Conductor of the Hall since late 2010, but his appearances in London have until now been limited to a few community orchestras. His appearance at this concert proved to be a triumphant success.

Not the least of Gourlay?s achievements was maintaining the concert?s original programme. The opening work was the UK premiere of Unstuck by Andrew Norman, a 32 year old composer from the United States. The name reflects Norman?s experience of finding a way forward after having become stuck partway through the composition process. The ten minute long work is energetic, raucous and disjointed (deliberately so), with a battery of percussion occasionally sounding like the Mumba from West Side Story on steroids. The BBCSO demonstrated a comprehensive mastery of Norman?s complex score.

Britten?s powerful and moving Violin Concerto, completed in 1939, has been enjoying a raised profile in recent years. One of the work?s most persuasive advocates has been Daniel Hope, whose performance here demonstrated an impressive mastery of the work?s technical challenges. His deeply felt interpretation of the concerto?s wistful closing section left a deep impression. Gourlay?s accompaniment, sensitive in the outer movements and full of lan in the Vivace second movement, was highly effective.

The final work on the programme was Shostakovich?s Tenth Symphony. Gourlay?s interpretation of the first movement was notable for its focus on the long line and careful management of tempo gradations, with climaxes of immense expressive power, while the Scherzo, taken at a tremendous lick, was electrifying. The Allegretto third movement, which includes musical representations of Shostakovich and his composition pupil, Elmira Nazirova, featured a strong sense of characterisation and atmosphere, and the woodwind playing was superb. The finale, with its mournful opening and extrovert conclusion, is a difficult movement to bring off, but once again Gourlay had the measure of Shostakovich?s music. This was altogether an outstanding performance, and the orchestral response was thrilling.

Further details of Barbican concerts can be found at barbican.org.uk

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