For a CBSO debut, this concert offered an interestingly varied calling card of Ryan Wigglesworth’s talents. In his approach to Mozart’s Jeunehomme Piano Concerto No. 9 Wigglesworth was unfussily direct, as soloist confining expressive subtleties to his cadenzas and, as director, the poignant wind writing (notably oboist Rainer Gibbons’ dying falls) of the Andantino.
As demonstrated by his Augenlieder of 2009 Wigglesworth the composer-conductor was quite different. The setting of four songs in English, German and French for soprano and orchestra is a work in which sonorities reign supreme and thematic ideas are hard to pin down; and like many contemporary composers given a large box of orchestral paints to play with Wigglesworth uses his resources generously.
True, there were often times in his richly complex score (think Berg laced with Birtwistle) when even the impressive lung power of the excellent Sarah Tynan was overwhelmed; but in its quieter sections – the recitative-like Visionen against unison violins, and the closing moments of the final song – Wigglesworth’s approach to timbre and texture showed considerable imagination.
And this ear for instrumental detail made a vivid listening experience of the sea-themed works at the beginning and end of the programme. The Oceanides of Sibelius may have seemed a bit wait-and-see, but Debussy’s La Mer grabbed and held the attention throughout. Wigglesworth certainly pulled no punches to convey the visceral excitement of the storm-tossed finale, but it was the sparkling Jeux de vagues that provided the most polished, nuanced playing of the evening.