Late replacements can make a career. One wonders what the future now holds for Andrew Gourlay, assistant conductor of the Hallé, who took over the BBC Symphony Orchestra's latest concert from the indisposed Thomas Dausgaard. He was a huge hit with audience and orchestra alike, and despite a couple of peripheral flaws, the overriding impression was of the emergence of an exciting young conductor with tremendous potential.
Gourlay took over Dausgaard's programme unchanged. Britten's Violin Concerto and Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony were prefaced by the UK premiere of Andrew Norman's Unstuck, a glamorously scored piece that examines how a line from Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five – "Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time" – impelled Norman to overcome composer's block in 2008. The first impression is of gleeful chaos as extravagant syncopations collide with shards of sexy melody. But three solo cellos gradually unstick themselves from the rest of it with an ascending theme that rises into the stratosphere after the tumult has died away.
The conductor has to choose between two endings: one shrill, one peaceful. Gourlay opted for the latter, nicely leading us towards Britten's concerto, written in 1938 and a work in which intimations of impending war mingle with pacifist grief. Daniel Hope was the soloist, leading us through nostalgia and anger towards the tragic close. Orchestrally, it was faultless.
Shostakovich's 10th, meanwhile, dates from 1953 and gazes back over Stalin's terror with a sense of exhausted relief that it is finally over (Stalin died in March that year). The dynamic gradations of the first movement and the slow introduction to the finale occasionally felt over-controlled. But the scherzo was pulverising, and the finale itself, taken at one hell of a lick, teetered thrillingly on the edge of mania.
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