BBC SSO/Wigglesworth City Halls, Glasgow, four stars

IN his first year as Chief Conductor of the BBC Scottish, Ryan Wigglesworth has made a distinct mark on the repertoire the orchestra plays, finding memorable connections between very different composers. The season ended with a concert that delivered more of that, from the canons of Richard Strauss and Edward Elgar, with the world premiere of a new cello concerto in between.

Early in his tenure, Wigglesworth made that work, written by Cheryl Frances-Hoad for cellist Laura van der Heijden, a BBC commission. Frances-Hoad took full advantage of the large orchestra required for the other works in some exquisite arrangements, with fine details from all over the platform, and especially in the writing for the winds, tuned percussion and harp.

At Laura van der Heijden’s instigation, the three movements were given an environmental theme, but this is a celebration of Earth, Sea and Air, not a lament.

In the fast opening section, the focus is firmly on the soloist, with fast figures across the range of the instrument, who was playing even when the score overwhelmed her audibility in the hall. A lush strings introduction moved things on to the slow “Sea” movement, rich in melody, with a rocking and lapping underscore.

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Van der Heijden was permitted a short break before a return to speedy work on the fingerboard for the more integrated finale in what is a work that very successfully marries classical form with a contemporary sound-world.

If it is not too much of a stretch to hear some of Frances-Hoad’s concerto scoring a David Attenborough documentary, Richard Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel sounds like the soundtrack for an Ealing comedy. It would be a very lively movie too, with the shifts of tone and style the composer uses to characterise the prankster of folk-lore.

Wigglesworth and the musicians tore into the music with a passion, and found just the right ironic pitch later when snare and bass drum and doomy brass suggest events may be taking a darker turn, only for the funereal tone to be confounded by bright lyricism.

Elgar’s Symphony No 2 also ends ambiguously, but rather less cheerily than the Strauss. The conductor found clear parallels in the orchestration during the Rondo third movement, but the larger common ingredient was that this music was conceived to make the most of a large orchestra, and this performance revelled in its epic scale.

It is significant, however, that Frances-Hoad’s new concerto more than held its own in the company.

The concert was recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Thursday May 25.