A radiant Sara Macliver wove a spell across the Concert Hall on Friday with the first of Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov’s Three Songs for Soprano and Orchestra; his Yiddish lullaby, Night of the Flying Horses, a soulful soliloquy on love.
Pizzicato strings chimed in like raindrops as solo woodwind then violin shadowed the singer; all restrained in homage to a local legend.
Macliver’s presence and control with a hint of vibrato matched the mood then changed up with a second theme led by reeds and viola, evoking gypsy mystery in a tale of wrong-side passion.
Golijov wrote the three songs at different times in different languages, yet Macliver was across all styles and idiom in compelling form.
Lua Descolorida, or Colourless Moon, brought more coloratura to an intensely Hispanic theme sung in the language of Galicia, Gallego.
Florid vocal tone over a dream-like orchestral soundscape acquired a febrile quality, ethereal and expressive in the same breath; a meditation on mortality commanding in the cadence.
Finally, verses by Emily Dickinson, How Slow the Wind, brought extra depth in tuned percussion supporting first woodwind then voice over another deftly drawn soundscape; darkly reflective yet sweetly tuneful, striving for the unattainable over funereal bells and bass-clarinet lament.
Turbulent emotion of a bereft soul was writ large in the climax, as if bargaining in the later stages of grief, before acceptance in the conclusion.
Restraint in the ensemble was matched by guest conductor Dane Lam, who played the disappearing director to showcase Macliver’s performance.
Yet he was energetic and purposeful in the opening work, Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, an apt amuse-bouche.
Scored lightly in the 18th century style, Prokofiev filled his work with irony – to “tease the geese” – and Lam captured the off-beat wit, showcasing WASO’s star-studded woodwind and brass.
Languid in the dance measures of the Larghetto second movement, and whimsical in the Gavotte third stanza, Lam led energetically into the Finale but never lost the lightness of touch in frenzied runs, trills and flourishes; woodwind and strings in furious agreement while brass and timpani danced attendance.
After the interval, the Sibelius Fifth Symphony opened with horns and timpani in rhapsodic mood before fragments of melody ran through the ensemble, echoing the German Romantics of the era but without the intensity.
Lam found bursts of sunlight amid an anthemic mood building towards a tone poem before breaking into a scherzo, with robust brass tolling out the first movement.
In the Andante middle stanza, hints of dance skipped across the stage, gradually building in dynamics and tone then falling back to a courtly gait.
At the last, an attacca entry to the Allegro molto finale saw a flurry of strings lead in a bell-like sequence in horns, alternating with the initial attack until a fateful swell spawned six celebratory farewell chords.
Dane Lam and WASO combine again next Friday and Saturday for the Last Night of the Proms.