SCO. Egarr. (Queen’s Hall: 10 Nov. ‘16)

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Etienne-Nicholas Mehul (1763 – 1817)

“Richard Egarr skilfully coaxed every nuance out of the brilliantly orchestrated score so that the music was allowed to speak for itself in all its tranquillity and serenity.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Musicians will have their little jokes. The opening of HMS Pinafore starts with a drum roll. People think it is the introduction to the National Anthem and stand. The orchestra continues into the overture. Members of the audience sit back down in a mixture of moods. Most take the joke. It is, after all, Operetta. The Edinburgh Quartet, much lauded in these pages, do all their tuning off stage and get straight into the work when entering. SCO Conductor Richard Egarr took it a step further on Thursday night by starting Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture before the audience had finished clapping him on. I loved it. I noted that the Edinburgh Quartet’s second violin, Gordon Bragg, was sharing the front desk of the seconds on the evening in question. Must have felt at home.

The SCO and Egarr treated us to a confident and gutsy rendition of Prometheus with Egarr’s left hand so active it was as if the orchestra was a clock he was winding up. They certainly kept a fast tempo. This was a colourful, jolly opening number with trumpet and horn not holding back. “Was that lively enough for you?” Egarr asked as he chatted between numbers. You bet.

From research, I had found that the little known Etienne Mehul wrote his First Symphony at the same time as Beethoven wrote his Pastoral. Richard Egarr informed us that as it was being written “the French had just cut off the heads of a lot of rich aristocrats”. Hmm, talk about context. The work is more in the style of Mozart than Beethoven, with suggestions of Haydn; it is simple and repetitive, but by no means without merit and deserves its place in the canon. Lively, bouncy, with a fast pace and well orchestrated, definitely entertaining (probably deliberately so in the case of the bassoon scoring being more akin to flatulence) and well played. We went into the interval feeling very upbeat.

What more can be said, or indeed written, about Beethoven’s Symphony No 6, the ‘Pastoral’? Well, I shall try, because its fifth movement Allegretto has soothed my troubled brow on many an occasion, and I hold the work among my personal favourites.

Egarr’s pace was slightly fast, and he thereby avoided the work showing any tendency to cloy or sound clichéd. The SCO played throughout with an engaging fluency and naturalness. This was not some band trotting out a popular number at the end of the evening and the work was well crafted and treated with respect.As for that familiar fifth movement Allegretto (famously used for Lentheric’s Tweed fragrance in the 1960s) Richard Egarr skilfully coaxed every nuance out of the brilliantly orchestrated score so that the music was allowed to speak for itself in all its tranquillity and serenity.

Another fine evening with the SCO that is making an increasingly serious contribution not just to the Scottish, but to the international musical scene as well.

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 10 November)

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