Jean-Fery Rebel (1666-1747)
” A consummate synergy of soloist and orchestra.”
Thursday’s 2018 Season opener by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, “Chaos and Creation”, was one of the most creative, surprising and varied concert programmes that I have ever come across – with the exception of the Haydn. But more of that later.
Do you know Jean-Féry Rebel? No, he is not a rock star or DJ, but was a composer (1666-1747) at the French Court at the time of Louis XV and a favourite of Madame de Pompadour. He came of a dynasty of court musicians, lived a long and successful life and wrote Les Elemens at the age of 72. It is a most extraordinary piece, with a sort of full on slam-dunk opening that reminded me of Honegger, 250 years later. Special effects were very much the thing in European Baroque and we were treated to a bird warbler at the rear of the auditorium, a whoop whistle reminiscent of Oliver Postgate’s The Clangers, and a wonderful theorbo – basically an oversized lute – whose fretboard must have been at least four feet long. At times I thought I was listening to the soundtrack of The Magic Roundabout. Violin bodies were used as percussion, the conductor did a dance with the principal violist, and everyone had a good time. I never knew Baroque could be so much fun.
A darker form of intensity followed with principal violist Jane Atkins taking the solo spot in Martinu’s Rhapsody-Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1951). She acquitted herself well, aided by her confident and lively persona. Although less celebrated now than his compatriot, Antonin Dvorak, Martinu was a successful composer and America took to him. The work is steeped in the Bohemian folksong style with a deep romanticism breaking away from his earlier neo-classical style. Atkins brought everything out of the work, producing rich melodic tones and light dance-like flashes that engaged us throughout. A consummate synergy of soloist and orchestra.
There was no let up in the treats Robin Ticciati and his band had in store for us after the interval. The Czech genre continued with Dvorak’s Biblical Songs. (1876). Scottish Mezzo Soprano Karen Cargill gave an assured and rewarding performance of the ten songs, commendably handling the Czech language without difficulty. Cargill has memorably sung Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder at the 2017 Proms with Sir Simon Rattle, and we were lucky to have her. I firmly believe this accomplished Mezzo, winner of the 2002 Kathleen Ferrier Award, to be on the verge of being one of the greatest Mezzos, and listening to her was a privilege.
The evening concluded with Haydn’s Symphony No. 96 (1791), wrongly called the Miracle Symphony for reasons we need not concern ourselves with here. Played with zest and not a hint of tiredness after a demanding programme, the orchestra acquitted itself well under Ticciati’s baton in this microcosm of Haydn’s symphonic genre, the first of his London Symphonies. But why it was included in the programme is open to question. It was out of kilter with the other more esoteric works of the evening. Nonetheless it made an enjoyable finale.
Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 11 January)
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