BBC Young Musician’s golden trio of finalists from 2016 seem determined to keep outdoing one another. Ben Goldscheider is engaged with the RPO, Sheku Kanneh-Mason has just released an extremely popular (if not universally liked) disc of the Elgar Cello Concerto. And saxophonist Jess Gillam continues to bound energetically between playing, outreach events and broadcasting.

Jess Gillam © Kaupo Kikkas
Jess Gillam
© Kaupo Kikkas

John Adams’ punchy concerto seems the perfect fit for Gillam; bold and energetic, lyrical and a little nostalgic, it was her first outing with the piece, and makes a welcome addition to her concerto repertoire. At the helm was fellow Hallé debutant Kazuki Yamada, the Principal Guest Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and a man forging a similarly energetic musical path. Adams’ precise, rhythmic concerto proved a baptism of fire for both; the balance in tutti sections took too long to regulate, leaving the unusually shy Gillam partially submerged for the best part of the first movement. Through the second, we were reminded why Gillam is so highly regarded, soaring over the top of Adams’ soupy orchestral palettes, and dragging the somewhat ragged Hallé towards the finale. An impressively calm encore (aptly, Ellington's In a Sentimental Mood) capped a solid debut for a remarkable performer who is still, incredibly, only 21.

Adams’ wistful evocation of Dolphy, Shorter and Coltrane is hardly revolutionary. But The Hallé’s neglect of orchestral music post-Stravinsky means it is the only piece written after 1945 that makes it onto the orchestra’s main programme of events after Christmas. With Manchester audiences braced for a lucrative (and sometimes obscure) exhumation of Beethoven, the ensemble turned to the more familiar tones of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony for the second half of the concert.

Where the Adams felt awkward, this type of repertoire sounds delicious in the hands of an ensemble like The Hallé, a group Mark Elder has moulded over the decades into a powerful and consistent deliverer of the Romantic symphonic catalogue. Whether Yamada had much choice in the direction of this regular concert item remains to be seen, but together, they contained Rachmaninov’s swirling, stormy macabre, channelling it into a few gut-wrenching moments of total exclamation. The third and second movements (exposed joins aside) delighted, particularly in the spacious solo from the orchestra’s principal clarinettist, Sergio Castelló López. Rachmaninov’s recognisable tropes had extra sparkle, too; funereal brass, prominent Dies irae motifs, churning prolonged chromaticism, all delivered with a measured exuberance befitting an orchestra most at home with Elgar and Vaughan Williams. A justified roar went up from the busy Stalls of Bridgewater Hall at the terrific end of the fourth movement, contentedly concluding a concert of two halves, two sounds and two distinct standards.

***11