BBC Philharmonic in Nottingham, 4****: William Ruff


BBC Philharmonic with Jess Gillam (saxophone)

October 11 2018

Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham


Review: William Ruff


Saxophonist Jess Gillam fizzes with the BBC Phil

Up till now you could wait an entire concert-going lifetime and never hear a saxophone as soloist in a classical concerto.  But how that has changed since young Jess Gillam burst onto the scene in that amazing BBC Young Musician Final when she was up against horn player Ben Goldscheider and the eventual winner Sheku Kanneh-Mason.

Jess crackled with charisma even when playing something as fragrantly delicate as Debussy’s Rhapsody in which she demonstrated the range of colour the saxophone can produce.  Conductor Ben Gernon also coaxed some wonderfully exotic sounds from the BBC Philharmonic.

In the Glazunov Concerto that followed, Jess was equally adept at capturing the dark, soulful melancholy of the opening as she was in the high-spirited conclusion.

The concert opened with the suite from Bartok’s Miraculous Mandarin, music originally written to accompany a still shocking ballet about a girl used by thugs to lure men to be robbed and killed.  Not surprisingly this isn’t pretty music and the ugly city noises which open the suite grab listeners by the throat, dragging them into the sordid drama.  Bartok demanded virtuosity from every section of the orchestra in order to create his music’s shattering impact.  Ben Gernon ensured that the BBC Phil delivered.

Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony ended the concert (broadcast live and available on the iPlayer).  Like so much of the composer’s music it is full of memorable tunes wrapped in colourful orchestration.  The brooding presence of relentless Fate is heard throughout a symphony which also boasts a glorious horn solo in its slow movement, a gracious waltz and a finale which glows with noble defiance as the music battles against Destiny and emerges triumphant.  The BBC Phil packed a powerful punch, relishing the music’s epic sweep and pulse-quickening, Technicolor drama.  The audience loved it.

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Ben Gernon with Jess Gillam (Saxophone)


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