PERHAPS the first most striking impression in James MacMillan’s music is its rich range of sonorities, within and between all sections of the orchestra.
But that is quickly followed by the realisation that these sonorities are used to powerfully emotional effect.
The Scot conducted the BSO in two of his own works – Three Interludes from his opera, The Sacrifice, which are economical in their use of the orchestra, and The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, which is on a larger scale and unleashes mighty forces.
It is clever in establishing a ‘keening’ Scottish sound but also hammers the message of the evil of witch-hunts with relentless force, with a torrent of trombones.
The BSO were in magnetic form in these works and in two English items at the programme’s heart.
Lawrence Power found both yearning and a jazzy brilliance in Walton’s viola concerto, making the quiet ending utterly spellbinding.
Yet nothing surpassed the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams. Massed and divided strings saturated the Guildhall in sound while also achieving acute dynamic shading and gloriously supple phrasing.
It seems MacMillan is hardly less effective a conductor than he is a composer. Certainly this was a concert that will not easily be forgotten.