BBC SSO/Cottee

Ayr Town Hall

Keith Bruce

three stars

WITH a hugely reduced number of festive season concerts in Scotland presented by the Raymond Gubbay organisation, the decision by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra management to invite conductor Andrew Cottee to direct a short tour, with this Ayr Arts Guild concert sitting between gigs in Glasgow and Aberdeen, addressed a gap in the Yule marketplace.

The recipe was straightforward: the SSO winds were replaced by a sax section and a trad jazz band added to the rest of the orchestra, with guest principals in the trumpets and trombones, and two show-tune singers out front. In Ayr Town Hall this arrangement looked especially festive, a Christmas tree of musicians with percussionist Dave Lyons at the top with his tuned metalwork and toys, occupying the same amount of space as the brass on the other side of the organ pipes.

Cottee’s book of big-band-and-strings arrangements includes the full jukebox of classic Christmas tunes, and the good people of the Guild supplied copious mulled wine and mince pies at the interval.

The music was very formulaic, however, and only really sparkled occasionally, elsewhere tending towards the full Gorgonzola with melted Camembert, particularly in the clunky script Matt Ford and Anna-Jane Casey read from their music stand. Ford in particular had a one-size-fits-all approach to the repertoire, and on the two songs where they overlapped, it was unarguable that Jamie MacDougall had a more expressive approach to the lyric in his performance with the RSNO the previous evening in Perth. Come to that, that orchestra’s first trumpet Chris Hart’s whinnying at the end of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride was more convincingly equine than Michael Lovatt’s here.

There were some excellent, brief sax solos, especially on tenor, and trombonist Gordon Campbell was a fine foil to Casey in What are you doing New Year’s Eve?, a late highlight of the evening. Alongside an amusingly sleazy We Three Kings in the Carols Medley, it was Casey who brought the most swinging moments to this menu of Christmas music.

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