The release of this all-British programme coincided with the announcement that Donald Runnicles will be returning to his native Scotland to become chief conductor of the BBC Scottish SO. From the evidence on this Telarc recording, the Scots made a wise choice. The Atlanta SO play brilliantly for Runnicles, and aside from coolly matter-of-fact performances of two of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance marches, the conductor proves a persuasive interpreter of some challenging scores.
Maxwell Davies describes An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise as a musical “picture postcard”, though it’s just as much a virtuoso orchestral showpiece. Runnicles’s reading is suitably exuberant and playful; the musicians sound as if they’re enjoying themselves as much as the revellers in the work’s scenario. In Turnage’s Three Screaming Popes, Runnicles channels a brasher, angrier energy, and the dark, quiet pools interspersed between the outbursts are equally compelling. MacMillan’s Britannia is a delightfully demented fantasia on “patriotic themes” (the composer’s words), and here it has an Ivesian feeling of raucous, nose-thumbing abandon.
Britten’s Sinfonia da Reqiuem is not quite as taut and expressively concentrated as the composer’s own recording (Decca, 9/89) but this new version still packs a powerful punch. The benediction-like final movement is especially touching in Runnicles’s hands.