Classical review: SCO: Garden of Devotion

At the Queens Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna

At the Queens Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna

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IT WAS a shamefully poorly attended concert – and an evening of exceptionally fine music-making that should have been enjoyed by far more.

SCO: Garden of Devotion

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

*****

If only they’d known that the probable reason for their absence – the UK premiere of the scarily contemporary Garden of Devotion by Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson – was actually a thoroughly approachable set of poignant love songs, kind of Brahms meets Piazzolla with a splash of Hollywood schmaltz thrown in. Co-commissioned by the SCO along with several other Nordic orchestras, they were lovingly delivered by Swedish singer Lisa Larsson with a bright, silkily phrased soprano and at times a heartbreakingly raw sincerity. She returned after the interval for more unrequited affection in Haydn’s angsty Scena de Berenice, which felt like the ideal vehicle for her second-by-second characterisation and emotional directness, although there were gratifyingly few vocal histrionics in her subtly considered account.

The true star of the show, though, was Estonian conductor Olari Elts, who rather magically managed to conjure quite analytical, microscopically detailed performances that still sparkled with spontaneity and fresh, vivid life. His closing Haydn Symphony No86 was hugely spirited and highly perceptive, witty but never overblown, controlled but never stifled. And it’s hard to think of anyone who conveys movements’ seemingly throwaway closing bars with more care and eloquence.

And he made his mark with an audacious reading of three pieces from Sibelius’s music for Kuolema. With gentle swells of dynamics and astute pacing, he brought the reassuringly familiar Valse triste close to the frenzied emotional turmoil of Ravel’s La valse. Startling, but illuminating.

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