Grażyna Bacewicz is far from a staple of the concert programme, despite the sizable body of work she composed. Esteemed by Lutosławski, Bacewicz was a significant figure in mid-20th century Polish classical music, but with the exception of one or two works her music is rarely performed. The BBC Symphony Orchestra’s decision to programme her Fourth Symphony with her compatriot Szymanowski’s Third offered a welcome opportunity to assess the style of a composer whom many have deemed a forgotten genius.

Nicky Spence and Sakari Oramo
© BBC | Mark Allan

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Sakari Oramo and the BBCSO, the piece failed to convince. The writing has technical deftness, with ferociously tricky playing for all sections of the orchestra, but too often one sensed effect over substance: tedious climaxes – at times beyond Oramo’s ability to control – and a tendency to flip from hell-raising hullabaloo to hyperbolic hush made it somewhat arduous going. There were some interesting parts: the flutter of the woodwind against the pulling of the strings in the first movement; the sinuous silky opening to the second movement that develops into moments of lush warmth from the violins, tempered by acidic woodwind. Among many neglected works of the 20th century, this is not one that warrants regular exhumation.

It was canny thinking to use Mozart as a palate-cleanser between the two Polish works. One of the most popular of his ‘Salzburg works’, the Sinfonia concertante for violin and violin in E flat major demands elegance of expression, but a degree of flair too, as well as a certain communication between soloists. There was a slight disparity between violist Timothy Ridout and violinist Johan Dalene, the former clearly the senior partner. Ridout has had a number of recent successes, notably a strong recording of Harold en Italie, and there was a confidence and ease to his playing, a dynamism that wasn’t quite matched in Dalene’s rather more restrained and tense bowing. There was, however, a clear conversational element to their playing that was on display throughout and the third movement had a joyously spirited bounce to it, but it did feel that Ridout was, to a certain extent, carrying the piece which prevented the performance from achieving its potential.

Johan Dalene, Timothy Ridout and the BBC Symphony Orchestra
© BBC | Mark Allan

Having emptied the stage for the Mozart, the players returned with the reinforcement of the BBC Symphony Chorus and the welcome sight of Nicky Spence, a luxury voice for the comparatively small solo requirements of Szymanowski’s Symphony no. 3. Oramo’s pacing was ideal, a certain sultry languor to it that nonetheless had buoyancy. Spence’s elegant phrasing was blended with a sombre gravity that captured the text, while the chorus – though not entirely in unison at every point – had a brightness of tone that reflected the numinism of this “Song of the Night”. Oramo brought a precision of attack from the strings and just about kept the various sections in balance.