THE 34-old-year Scottish conductor Rory Macdonald and the 29-year-old Dutch violinist Simone Lamsma are well past the stage when they could be called ‘promising’: both are in the thick of highly-successful careers. But the youthful zest that both bring to their music-making was clearly evident at The Lighthouse last night. The imaginative programme combined the familiar with the unfamiliar in two matched halves, each spotlighting a composer who had contributed to the forging of the national identity of a small country.
Before the interval, the Czech Dvorák was under the spotlight – well, for most of the time, because a couple of bars into the first item, the Symphonic Variations, the Lighthouse suffered a brief total blackout. The orchestra gamely played on, seemingly unfazed by the fact that they could see neither their music nor the conductor. When the lights returned they had literally not missed a beat, and continued with a loving performance of a set of twenty-seven brief variations on an original theme, exploring different keys and time-signatures and highlighting different sections of the orchestra, including a solo for leader Amyn Merchant. We then welcomed Simone Lamsma, an eagerly-awaited return after her memorable performances of the Shostakovich and Beethoven concertos in recent years. Radiating the deepest concentration, she gave a strong, forthright performance of Dvorák’s Violin Concerto, with a beauty of line and tone that channelled the composer’s emotions in a sincere, direct and unaffected way.
The second half began with Rory Macdonald’s brief introduction to Sibelius’s rarely-heard Scene with Cranes. Talks like this are always welcome, enhancing the audience’s appreciation of the music and building a bridge between listener and performer. The piece, an atmospheric and mainly hushed evocation of the Finnish landscape, showcased the BSO’s warm but precise string sections, with a brief interlude in which the clarinets of Kevin Banks and Christine Roberts were the haunting voices of the cranes. There followed an exciting, electric performance of the superb 5th Symphony. The prestissimo passage where the orchestra hurtles towards the conclusion of the first movement was breathtaking: Sibelius was using metaphors to do with rivers to describe symphonic development in his diary at the time he was writing the 5th, and here, the river had become raging rapids. Although at times the balance between horns and strings was questionable, this was alert, alive, fresh playing.