BBC SSO/Dausgaard

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

THERE have been few live events more illustrative of Radio 3’s current mantra “New Year, new music” than Saturday’s concert by the BBC Scottish under chief conductor Thomas Dausgaard.

Not that the second half symphony, Amy Beach’s Second, the “Gaelic”, composed in the last decade of the 19th century when she was still in her twenties, is especially new. It is likely that few in the audience had heard it, however, or any of the musicians played it. Quite why it is so little-known is a mystery as it remains — as it proved at its Boston premiere — a patchwork crowd-pleaser that plunders Celtic traditional sources from the old country for some of its tunes.

The slow third movement is the heart of the work, very elegantly played by the SSO, with the last and longest of the evening’s solo excursions by orchestra leader Laura Samuel setting the tone, while the exuberant finale brought the programme to a climactic conclusion.

The world premieres in the first half were a contrast both with the Beach and with each other. Samuel was featured in Bent Sorensen’s five short intermezzi for orchestra, Enchantress, which took a Walter Scott poem as its Scottish Inspiration, and shared some of that DNA with the new year’s anniversary bloke, Beethoven. The result was very picturesque and, indeed, enchanting, music, that was just as easy to warm to as the symphony proved to be.

Emma-Ruth Richards’s song cycle The Sail of a Flame, with mezzo-soprano Lucy Schaufer, was, as the American singer had told me, a “chewier” prospect altogether, and much less easy to digest at first hearing. Although she was more than equal to its demands, there were moments when the interpretation of the score by soloist and conductor seemed a little tentative. Richards has found a very personal path through the words of poets Kei Miller, Don Paterson, Jackie Kay, Carol Ann Duffy and Robin Robertson, but it often strayed far from the rhythms of the original verse. Here, too, Laura Samuel had a solo role, but it was the lovely ensemble scoring for the strings and winds that made the strongest immediate impression.