We all know how estimable a composer is James MacMillan, vouched for by so many magnificent works over the decades.
But he is also a fine conductor, and some orchestra ought to snap him up as principal guest conductor. His beat is clear and unfussy, and he imposes no look-at-me overtones upon the music he directs.
So, in the second of Friday’s two concerts centred around his work, he presided over free-flowing yet so strongly-detailed accounts of Shostakovich’s harrowing String Quartet No.8, and Beethoven’s Symphony No.2. What a joy it was to hear that piece without any clutter, whether from the muesli-eating “authentic” brigade or from those who would put the weight of the future unjustly upon it. And the Britten Sinfonia responded with airy intensity, just the qualities Beethoven would have expected.
But the major feature of the evening, recorded for broadcast tonight (Thursday) on BBC Radio 3, was obviously a MacMillan premiere, his Oboe Concerto, performed mellifluously and with empathetic understanding by Nicholas Daniel.
Nearly 25 minutes in length, this is a work which sums up so brilliantly the character of the instrument, pastoral, ruminative, satirical, and always neatly combining solo and orchestra. Within the orchestra there is an important role for the cor anglais, almost a wise alter ego to the frisky oboe soloist.
There are two great oboe concertos in this selective repertoire, those by Mozart and Richard Strauss. Perhaps we can now add this substantial and remarkable offering by James MacMillan.