Classical review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Picture: Donald MacLeod
Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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RIGHT from the start, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s concert under John Storgårds proved a deeply spiritual experience. But that wasn’t because of any contrived, incense-infused holiness or lulling repetitions offering a glimpse of the beyond.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Colin Currie - Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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Instead, through his clear, sincere and seemingly simple accounts, Storgårds drew you deep inside his music, for contemplation or bedazzlement.

It was very much the first of those with the opener, Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – but Storgårds’s light, bright, brisk performance was a million miles from the ecclesiastical edifices of sound that other conductors construct. It shone from within, with the piece’s three string groups beautifully delineated, and showed off what a fine, silky-smooth string section the SCO has.

The orchestra sounded like a different band, though, in James MacMillan’s hectic percussion concerto Veni, veni, Emmanuel, which crackled with barely controlled energy as church plainsong fragments rang out from within the composer’s kaleidoscopic textures. Darting from one instrument to another, Colin Currie was an athletic and superbly agile soloist, lyrical on a marimba and thrillingly raucous on drums and cymbals. And the concerto’s radiant conclusion, with orchestra members gently striking miniature chimes while Currie intoned a plainsong melody on huge tubular bells, was spellbinding.

Following a Sibelius Swan of Tuonela that was so fragile it felt breathed into existence came the great Finn’s Sixth Symphony – by far his most self-effacing and inward-looking. But Storgårds’s hesitant, sometimes rather ragged performance made for a strangely unconvincing end to an otherwise mesmerising evening.