SCO: Swensen, Lewis (Usher Hall: 14 Mar.’19)

“Elegiac, more like a tone poem, with the baton-less Swensen using his hands more like a magician than conductor”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

 

Thursday’s Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s gig played to a larger and more diverse audience than at their normal Queen’s Hall venue, and the audience showed their appreciation with a near full house, enthusiastic applause, restraint with seasonal agues such as coughing (your beleaguered writer included!) and respectful post performance silences following the conductor’s upraised baton at the end of the quieter pieces.  It was a joy to be among the cognoscenti.

 

The programme was a contrast of early and late Romantic works, with composition dates ranging from 1787 to 1924. Curiously, three of the works comprised several years in their gestation, and the remaining Coriolan Overture was written for no apparent purpose at all other than composition for the sake of it (not that there is anything wrong with that, but it is more of a 20th rather than 19th century idea, in a past age of mostly commissioned music). Beethoven spent 11 years finalising his Concerto No 2 in B flat, Op 19 (which was in fact his first concerto), and Sibelius the best part of a decade on his last two symphonies.  That is, I have calculated, about 3 minutes music per year in the case of the latter, one minute in the case of the Beethoven.  I guess that they had one or two other things to attend to as well?  Even George R R Martin is doing better than that with the concluding ‘Game of Thrones’ book.

 

Was the deliberation in terms of timescale worth it? In the case of the Beethoven I would say yes, for Sibelius, I would be less sure.

 

Conductor Joseph Swensen bounded on to the podium to start off the proceedings with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Op 62.  An amiable great big bear of a man, heavily bearded, of mixed Japanese and Norwegian heritage, he kicked off the playing without ado and drove us through ten minutes of classical gothic music without reference to a score.  The orchestra responded well to his enthusiastic conducting (no baton) and we experienced a fluent, well played opener that lifted our spirits.

 

Next up the wonderfully adept Paul Lewis took us through the Beethoven Piano Concerto no 2.  Only last week Can Cakmur gave us a spellbinding interpretation of the third with the RSNO in the very same hall.  The second was a completely different work, of almost a different world, mature Mozart rather than Beethoven at the height of his powers, eleven years separating their composition. To compare them would be comparing chalk with cheese. Lewis played with consummate ease and brought everything out of the work that he should have.  After the long, tautly played orchestral opening Lewis entered with bright, clear tone, good intonation and phrasing.  The well known third movement Rondo: Molto Allegro was a delightful, reassuring romp.  Enthusiastic applause but alas no encore, the more surprising in view of the relatively short duration of the programme.  Never mind, mustn’t be greedy.

 

Two Sibelius symphonies filled the second half of the programme, No 6 in D minor, Op 104 (1923) and No 7 in C, Op 105 (1924).  This was the programme feature of the evening, and one wondered what our charming rather enigmatic conductor, with his Scandinavian roots, would make of these relatively unknown works compared to the over popular 2nd and 5th symphonies

 

The 6th is constructed in conventional four movement style and lasts approximately 25 minutes.  Too much, in my opinion, has been made of the fact that Sibelius was studying Palestrina when he wrote it.  More telling, I suspect, was that it was rather overshadowed by the fifth symphony being written at the time.  Sibelius himself said that it reminded him of snow falling.  A sublime, ethereal string orchestra opening followed by woodwind calling.  Elegiac, more like a tone poem, with the baton-less Swensen using his hands more like a magician than conductor.  The second movement built up the tension and the third was a return to the more plaintive; the final Allegro Molto a return to the brass we know so well.  I wanted to rush home and listen to it again and again.  A privilege to hear this “Cinderella” of Sibelius symphonies being done by so rightly by a deeply sensitive conductor and orchestra.

 

Finally to the final Sibelius symphony, No 7.  A single movement work of a little under 25 minutes, more of a tone poem and originally entitled Fantasia Symphonica No 1, Robert Layton has described it as “completely original in form, subtle in its handling of tempi, individual in its treatment of key and wholly organic in growth”.  Moreover ‘New Grove’ describes it as “Sibelius’s most remarkable symphonic achievement”.   Hmm.  It does grow and deliberately lacks the shape of a symphony. I suppose one should regard it as a musical development, even if one does not always know where it is going.  A string opening very much in the tragic genre, with the brass making its presence felt and gradually taking over.  Bruckner does brass with forcefulness and aggression, Wagner with foreboding, but Sibelius does brass with soul!  The work, much favoured by many, made for an intriguing essay in related sounds and passages conjuring up imaginings of mystical Finnish folklore.

 

 

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Charles Stokes(Seen 14 March)

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The Taming of the Shrew (Pleasance: 12-16 Mar.’19)

Michael Hajiantonis as Petruchio and Anna Swinton as Katherina.
Photo: Maia Walcott

“The command to ‘Kiss me, Kate,’ is no tender joke.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

As title challenges go, here’s a biggie: the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company presents The Taming of the Shrew. Rhymes with ‘Me Too’, helpfully, and for my money chimes with Rudimental and Ed Sheeran’s ‘Lay It All On Me’:

 

‘So if you’re hurting babe
Just let your heart be free’

 

Director, Tilly Botsford, would know her audience and on the night that audience was overwhelmingly female and young and had to be with Katherina (Kate) Minola all the way to Padua and back. Right at the start callow and earnest Lucentio is advised to ‘Study what you most affect’ and Botsford takes it from there. This is not the oddball ‘pleasant comedy’ that might ‘frame your mind to mirth and merriment’; no, it’s that other version, where bladdered Christopher Sly and the play-within-the play are cut and Petruchio lectures on misogyny.

 

The idea, of course, is that you walk out of the theatre with Katherina, a ‘foule and contending Rebel’ against Petruchio’s cruel dominion, and much is shaped to that end. An empty set consists of stepped black blocks and shiny scaffolding poles and costumes are kept plain and unremarkable: braces over white shirts and roomy trousers for gentlemen suitors and servants; with gowns for elegant swishing from Bianca (Jessica Butcher) and impudent flouncing from Katherina. The second half features harsher lighting. Nothing here of Italian colour, or period, despite the frequent mention of Pisa, Mantua, Venice. My favourite? Tranio’s sailmaker father is from Bergamo. It looked like a reaction to the vivid, beer stained, palette of last year’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Music, when it sounded, was a necessary relief and was, I think, under-played.

 

If it’s desolate at its close, this ‘Shrew’ still has its several entertaining scenes. Send for Biondello, bag carrier and fixer, and Callum Pope will have you smiling in a moment as he sorts out another fine mess. Thomas Noble’s beard and size give Hortensio unmissable stature and disguised (not!) as music teacher Licio he’s a nimble, comic treat. Will Peppercorn is the smitten Lucentio and also looks a prize chump as the elongated Cambio. Sally Macalister’s Grumio may give a knockabout performance but it’s well turned and always engaging. When Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller eventually turns up as Vincentio, humour gains a suave, ironic, dimension. Standout and habitual tailoring from Milan or DC? Tranio (Levi Mattey) is another more than capable servant-as-master and dear ‘old’ Gremio (Henry Coldstream) has the delightful, crestfallen, tribute to the ‘Great British Bake Off’, ‘My cake is dough’.

 

So, to risk the extended analogy, what does rise to the occasion?  There is no showstopper here; tonally, politically, the play is now a nightmare, and (therefore?) the technical challenge of how to sort its language is significant. ‘Coney catcher’, anyone? There is, notwithstanding, an appalling build to the fact that Katherine has had to marry a brute. Her father, Baptista (Michael Zwiauer), has no conscience. Petruchio is not, in this production, the roistering six-pack article. Michael Hajiantonis plays him straight, out for what he can get. He’s clever and vicious and unlovable, punto e basta! The command to ‘Kiss me, Kate,’ is no tender joke. Katherine is unnerved to destruction and Anna Swinton has that closing, stupefying, monologue to prove it.

 

For my part, I miss Christopher Sly, Madam wife at his side, and with him the opportunity to pretend that ‘The Shrew’ is a piece to enjoy and applaud while the sorry world slips by. All credit then to Tilly Botsford and an excellent cast for going at the real thing, at pace and with conviction.

 

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Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 13 March)

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RSNO: Watanabe, Cakmur (Usher Hall: 8 Mar.’19)

“The Wheel of Fortune” from the original manuscript of the Carmina Burana , c.1230

“This is a wonderful time to be a concert goer in Edinburgh”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

There are considerable advantages to living in a city with such an enlightened and broad church approach to the performing arts.  And being – in global terms – for music a second city compared to, say, Berlin, New York, London or San Francisco, we tend to see up and coming artists before they get the bookings on the true world stage.  We thus look into the future.  And the future is bright.

 

Can you recognise the names in the headline?  I doubt it.  Kensho Watanabe hit the big time two years ago when, just appointed Assistant Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra aged 29, he stood in at the last minute for his mentor Yannick Nezet-Seguin to make his critically acclaimed subscription concert debut with the Philadelphia and pianist Daniil Trifanov.  On his debut with the RSNO on Thursday he showed masterly control and grasp of the complexities involved in conducting a major full length piano concerto, and an hour long Choral and Orchestral work.  One had complete confidence in him.

 

And Can Cakmur?  A Turkish pianist who won the 2017 Scottish International Piano Competition, 22 years old, and about to debut with the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra.  We shall be seeing and hearing a great deal more from this highly educated, personable young man.

 

So I suspect the draw, with all due respect to the principals, was the programme: Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor Op 37, and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. A mixture, perhaps, of the sacred and profane. A full house, bar the usual few leg-numbing seats in the gods.

 

It resonated with me personally that the Beethoven was being performed fifty years after Radu Lupu’s astonishing and winning performance in the final of the Leeds International Piano Competition. In particular, his rendering of the second movement Largo demonstrated thoughtful restraint and tenderness and left me mesmerised.  Then we had a successor, twenty years on, to the other legendary Romanian pianist , Dinu Lipatti.  And now a Turk interprets the grand man, and an exhilarating interpretation it was.  After the lengthy orchestral introduction, brass and wind a little out of balance with the strings to start with, but soon settling down, Cakmur almost threw the opening scales off the piano in a brave, individualistic but convincing interpretation that proves the international piano competition world is not just throwing out sterile, technically competent clones.  This young man showed a grasp of the work way beyond his years.  Rightly pausing so the unfortunate plethora of uncontrolled audience coughing and sputtering finished, Cakmur created a sense of calm before the opening solo chords of the second movement Largo.  The pianist’s sensitivity of playing and interpretation pleased this disciple of Radu Lupu, taking one to a level of transcendence that almost, but not quite, extinguished the insensitive uncontrolled coughing of the audience, who should not have attended in those circumstances, and should learn to cover their mouth with a handkerchief.  If only the management could advise this at the beginning of the programme when they talk about mobile phones.

 

Without a break we rushed into the final movement Rondo: Allegro.  Could have been Presto.  Uplifting, joyous, fun.

 

Cakmur introduced his encore that was a melange of Liszt and Schumann overlaid by Bach.  Ingenious.  What stamina these professionals have, to play like that after thirty minutes of intense keyboard bashing!

 

There was much to enjoy in the second set’s Carmina Burana, and I always get more out of listening to works that I have performed, such as this, with the mighty Beckenham Chorale.  I counted at least 100 voices in the RSNO chorus who gave a very good account of themselves, a full on O Fortuna to open the proceedings, clear diction of the Latin text, great rhythmical singing in the jazz like Veni, Veni, Venias, glorious unrestrained joy in the Blanziflor et Helena.  The children’s choir performed clearly without words or music, showed exemplary discipline, and have clearly been very well trained.  Soloists Fflur Wyn, Adrian Dwyer and Stephen Gadd contributed well, if sparsely, giving in particular amusing renditions of a swan not enjoying about to be eaten and a drunken abbot.

 

This is a wonderful time to be a concert goer in Edinburgh.

 

 

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Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 8 March)

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SCO: Manze. Piemontesi (Queen’s Hall: 28 Feb.’19)

Image result for stenhammar serenade in f

Image result for stenhammar serenade in f

“A very well-known piece in Sweden……..which is not saying a lot”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

 

The Queen’s Hall claque are a cheerful bunch, if in the main somewhat elderly, and you know they will address almost anything put in front of them in a good spirit.  Thursday’s concert gave them such a challenge: obscure Stravinsky, even more obscure Stenhammar, with the reward of some straight down the line tinkly Mozart as the filling in the sandwich.

Guest conductor on the night was the personable Andrew Manze, Beckenham born (your writer’s home for 20 years) and Cambridge educated, his pedigree is just right for this type of music, which he interprets with considerable enthusiasm.  Formerly Associate Director of the Academy of Ancient Music and Artistic Director of the English Concert he has been since 2014 Chief Conductor of the NDR Radiophilharmomie Hannover and has just had his contract renewed until 2021.  England’s loss is Germany’s gain.

The Stravinsky that opened the programme, Concerto in D, was atypical of the composer’s style and perhaps could have been more properly described as a Sinfonia for Strings.  Bartok, Britten, Tippett and others have used the description Concerto when there is no solo instrument and I consider it misleading.  By no means a great work, it provided an entertaining start to the evening, with an exciting, taut, sparse start ending with pizzicato double bass.  The second movement Arioso-Andantino actually achieved a most un-Stravinsky like legato along with an uninterrupted melodic line.

Next up was the fabulous Francesco Piemontesi with Mozart’s Piano Concerto no 19 in F, K459.  This was the last of six piano concertos that Mozart wrote in 1784 and stands at the crossroads with the great works from No. 21 onwards.  Simple in construction and in particular in the opening movement, the final Allegro “is one of Mozart’s most miraculous movements – the balance between the extreme light-heartedness of the melodies and the formal complexity of the motifs and the counterpoint being simply astounding”. (I do not usually use Wikipedia as a source but cannot better their description on this occasion).  The orchestra opened with bright, clear intonation from the strings, soon supported by wind and brass with a strict tempo before the soloist entered.  This was a lively, free spirited performance with some lovely, beautifully expressed playing of great fluency; piano and orchestra alike.

For those of us who felt a little cheated from not hearing the more mature No. 27 in B flat K595, which the band had played at St Andrews the night before, we were mollified by an extended encore from both soloist and orchestra of a Mozart Rondo in A (partially orchestrated by Charles Mackerras) which sent us off into the interval with a joyful disposition.

Andrew Manze spoke to us as we reassembled for part two telling us, tongue in cheek, that the Stenhammar Serenade in F was “a very well-known piece in Sweden……..which is not saying a lot…. Enjoy it, because it might be the only time you hear it!  Mind you, how many of you had heard the Stravinsky?”  Not so, there is an excellent recording by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra that is also streamed by Tidal, and of the Stravinsky by the New Orchestral Symphony Orchestra of Boston, recorded in 1954.  How’s that for Reader Service?

But what of the music?  The opening reminded me of the sort of film music you hear for Ealing Comedies and ’50s British cinema, but later on the work developed into something more substantive.  It was a well-orchestrated 40-minute tableaux, well scored with plenty of scope for woodwind and brass, with just a touch of neighbour Sibelius.  Clearly a difficult piece to play, the orchestra are to be congratulated in portraying the work with such competence, fluency and enthusiasm.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 28 February)

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9 to 5 (Pleasance: 5-9 Feb.’19)

“A damn good show .. poetry in a big, shiny sequined dress”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars Nae Bad 

 

l-r: Anna Sheen as Violet, Jemma Lowcock as Judy, & Alice Hoult as Doralee.
Images: Andrew Perry

Dolly, Dolly, Dolly. What is there to say about the undisputed Queen of Country that hasn’t already been said? Other than the fact it’s what I blast during weightlifting 80% of the time (so now if you see me, congrats, you know!), it’s hard to come up with praise that hasn’t been done to death. I thought I’d get lucky when I got to talk about something Parton-adjacent, but unfortunately for me and very fortunately for everyone else in the audience, the praise vocabulary has a lot of overlap.

9 to 5 tells the story of Violet (Anna Steen), Judy (Gemma Lowcock) and Doralee (Alice Hoult): three embattled women struggling to stay strong in a world designed to keep them down. That world is typified by their boss, Franklin Heart Jr, neatly summed up as a “sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot”. After a chance encounter with the devil’s lettuce, the three heroines find themselves in far deeper than they intended, but with a chance to change both their lives, and the lives of their co-workers, for the better.

From the outset, I need to make it clear: this is a damn good show, with damn good performers. If the star rating wasn’t enough to tip you off, Footlights’ production of 9 to 5 is one to be proud of. The lynchpin of that success was the central trio of Hoult, Lowcock, and Steen. It’s not often that I get to see talent on the student stage that would fit seamlessly into a professional production, but then again, it’s also not often that you see not one but three vocalists who can not only sing to character, hit notes right in their centre zone and (as my opera teacher used to say) throw their voices out so hard you could hammer a nail with them. Even better is the obvious talent at play outside the soundtrack: Steen balanced great comedic sensibilities with an unexpectedly genuine reflection of the struggles faced by powerful women; Lowcock threw levels of vulnerability and hidden nerve into what could’ve easily been a cookie-cutter “beaten down protagonist in a musical” role; and Hoult could basically get a job as a Dolly Parton impersonator – sometimes it was genuinely difficult to tell the difference from sound alone.

‘Around Here’

And that’s even more satisfying when supported by a keenly talented secondary cast. Daniel Stansfield’s Franklin is a wonderfully grotesque, gurning gargoyle of a man, whose revelry in his own personal toxicity is almost a treat (almost); Mhairi Goodwin’s fawning office drone Roz was not only a brilliantly half-sympathetic secondary antagonist, but probably had my favourite performance in the entire production (you’ll know it when you see it); and special props go to Brett McCarthy Harropin a stunningly chameleonic performance as both a dancer, and the show’s sleeper comedy MVP, Josh. Honestly, most of this review could just be praise for the acting. Even if you are not mentioned here, please rest assured: I noticed you, and you were glorious.

Of course, what’s an actor without blocking? And although certain productions on the Pleasance Stage have erred towards A-Level Drama sensibilities in the past, this is certainly a welcome break. I was unable to find a fully-titled choreographer, but whoever in this production created the movement should be very proud of their work: the dancework has the precision of a watch movement. Every part of the stage had its own novel and interesting motions, fully cohesive to the overall pitch and wave of the beat. Darn good to watch, especially the opening number.

To round off the positives, many that there are: this is a musical. Not just a musical, but a Musical. If you’ve watched one or two, you’ll be very familiar with the emotional beats, levels and general plot. But parts of this show felt like I was seeing the familiar tropes for the very first time. When this production gets going and finds its stride, it’s poetry in a big, shiny sequined dress.

Doralee enjoys a Cowgirl’s Revenge

However, this gem is not without flaws. These seem most glaring behind the scenes: whoever was on sound needs to review their operations. The levels between the band and singers were usually abysmal for the first half of most songs, which makes it feel as if whoever was on script watch was distracted. In between the constant volume switching, and a feedback boom in the first half that could have blown fillings out, it ultimately came off as sloppy and far less than what a production like this should be capable of. Although fixed by due diligence, it was disappointing that such a big feature was handled so poorly.

That said, my one large criticism of what I was seeing directly onstage was that the opening number didn’t set my expectations high. I can’t tell if it’s a comparative lack of rehearsal or some mistake on the night, but the all-important 9 to 5 number sounded off key, off time and sluggish for maybe half of the time. Luckily the show recovered soon after, but I distinctly recall being viscerally afraid the rest would be much like it.

I wish I could’ve given the show an ‘Outstanding’, but these two issues  – mostly the former – marred it enough that the entire experience didn’t reach the heights I knew it could have, given the rest of its parts.

However, the above flaws should be fixable, and even if not, I would still recommend this show. The sheer spectacle of a good musical is really hard both to organise and act in, but the levels of talent at play here are exactly what Edinburgh’s come to expect from the university’s Footlights in recent years. Despite the factors holding it back, 9 to 5 is a credit to the cast and team that have brought it to Pleasance, and it deserves every seat sold. In a world that’s all takin’ and no giving, this production definitely bucks the trend.

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Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 6 February)

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When The Rain Stops Falling (Bedlam: 6 – 9 Feb.’19)

Photo: Andrew Perry, EUTC

“Magnificient endeavour”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars, Outstanding

 

The archangel Gabriel commands the gates of Paradise but his mortal namesakes are having a bad time, lots of bad times in fact. At the start of Andrew Bovell’s play, in the year of our Lord 2039, it’s raining dead fish upon Gabriel York in Alice Springs. In early sixties London Henry Law abandons his wife and seven year old son, Gabriel, and along the Coorong lagoon in south Australia in 1983 the same Gabriel (Law) totals himself and his pregnant girlfriend – Gabrielle, of course – in a car crash.

There’s annunciation and revelation all through this play of four generations. It is of mothers and sons, of the sins of fathers, and of their mortifying consequence. Call it Miltonic, which might explain why Edinburgh University’s English Literature department chose to sponsor it. In Davos last month David Attenborough warned that “The Garden of Eden is no more” and now we have the unprecedented rainfall of the past ten days in northern Queensland.  In Bovell’s play, written in 2008, it takes two hours, for the rain to stop falling and it delivers pathos by the bucket load but in the end it delivers understanding and well-being, as if you’ve been well rinsed.

We’re talking a cold water shower here: a deluge of testimony and heartache within an enclosure of near on eighty years. When The Rain Stops Falling has an extraordinary structure, where periods and scenes elide. It has been variously described as a ‘cats cradle’, a ‘pretzel’, a ‘Rubik Cube’. Characters fold their umbrellas, hang their waterproofs, and momentarily take their place alongside each other around a large dining table. It is always fish soup for supper, whether it’s in London in 1959, Uluru (Ayres Rock) in 1968 or Adelaide in 2013. Conversation moves between relationships, sex, drink, age, and … Diderot’s dressing gown, Mary Shelley, and the Great Hurricane of 1780. You might think, as a Gabriel observes, ‘a mess’; but then it is also a ‘magnificent endeavour’.

Cast and crew combine with remarkable nerve and purpose. There is no interval, as the writer required, and a scene misplayed could wreck any sense of what is going on – of where and when. Director Lucy Davidson has done a terrific job keeping the stage action fluid and evident without the space to really big up the visuals beyond projected captions. Actors work hard within overlapping narratives that are as fragile as the eco-system of the Coorong. In particular, Kelechi Anna Hafstad’s diction as the older Elizabeth Law has the clarity of pain that has been hung out to dry. Charlie O’Brien as Gabriel Law, Elizabeth’s son, has a lightness to him that is almost uplifting. And, when his wretched father, Henry (Angus Gavan McHarg), gives despairing voice to his postcards home, you are grateful for that support. Similarly, Dominic Sorrell plays his heart out as Joe Ryan, a good man out of his depth. Barney Rule opens and closes the drama as the stoical Gabriel who helps the audience to shelter. I reckon he’s channelling Lear’s Fool, for ‘He that has a little tiny wit, – With hey, ho, the wind and the rain, Must make content with his fortunes fit, For the rain it raineth every day.’

I much enjoyed this production of an intriguing play. One for the canon of contemporary Australian drama.

 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 6 February)

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SCO: Rustioni, Mendelssohn (Queens Hall: 6 Dec. ’18)

Image result for mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809-1847)

“A delightful cornucopia of early romantic music.  It was a joy from start to finish.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is currently offering a two part programme celebrating Mendelssohn and music in a similar vein.  On Thursday we got two pieces by the main man, along with a Rossini overture and a charming suite of Respighi bonbons, published almost a century later.

 

Whilst the Queens Hall is a welcoming venue with a genial atmosphere of really committed Musica Affecianadi Geriatrica the venue, as an old church, is pretty basic with stackable chairs forming the main stalls whose lack of racking means sightlines are poor, particularly as in this evening’s case where the size of the orchestra meant dispensing with the stage.  We saw the top half of the conductor, the heads of the soloists, and the wind and brass, the strings and woodwind, in glorious invisibility.  This made it frustrating and difficult to engage.

 

One wonders if the excellent young conductor, Daniele Rustioni, knew this, for his style of conducting was endearingly inclusive in terms of rapport with the players and at times almost swaying to the music with frequent flicks of his fine head of hair to engage with the audience.

 

But notwithstanding these built-in disadvantages and compensating factors, the music, and the playing, spoke for themselves in a delightful cornucopia of early romantic music.  It was a joy from start to finish.

 

Mendelssohn was the main event and is what I shall concentrate on but let me say first that Rossini’s Overture L’Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) delighted us with a ridiculous contrasting opening of pizzicato followed by orchestral chords in a positively Mozartian romp, with special mentions to the oboe of Robin Williams and piccolo of Alison Mitchell.

 

Our lively conductor almost ran back to the podium after minor re-seating between works and got straight into Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances: Suite 1, which did exactly what it said on the tin, a pleasant collection of instrumental ditties with oboe again to the fore and some strong cello playing from Principal Philip Higham.

 

And now the main attraction, Felix Mendesssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847), in the view of many the most precocious musical talent of all time, including Mozart and Schubert; the critical difference between him and Mozart was that his father did not exploit his youthful talents and instead let him grow.  Nonetheless he died aged 38 only a few years longer than Mozart’s 35 and Schubert’s 31, but the latter was disease driven (typhoid or syphilis, depending whom you believe), whilst the former two was almost certainly overwork.  His catalogue is enormously popular, and this evening we got to hear two lesser known works.

 

Mendelssohn’s Two Concert Pieces were in effect small scale concertos for two clarinets, in this case regular B-flat and bass.  The bass clarinet made a pleasant change to hear in these two light, entertaining pieces which while hard to take seriously were none the less enjoyable for that.  SCO Principal Maximiliano Martin and sub Principal William Stafford disported themselves with aplomb and the whole band, and audience, had a great time.

 

I did not know Mendelssohn’s 1st Symphony in C minor at all and was impressed by its structure and depth, late Mozartian in style, and astonishingly, composed when he was 15.  There was no hint of immaturity in this work whatsoever, which the orchestra played with verve and enthusiasm throughout.

 

So, all in all, this was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of accessible, tuneful music, very well played throughout with everyone, conductor, soloists, band and audience, having a great evening’s entertainment.

 

 

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 6 December)

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