Classical review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Stirling Castle

Alexandre Bloch. Picture: Contributed
Alexandre Bloch. Picture: Contributed
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IT’S amazing how the same piece played within weeks by the same orchestra, but under a different conductor, can sound so incredibly different.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Grand Hall, Stirling Castle

Rating: ****

The music was Stravinsky’s neo-classical gem Dumbarton Oaks and the orchestra was the SCO, but instead of having Joseph Swensen exercise the lacerating rhythmic precision that sent pulses racing in last month’s performance, here was French conductor Alexandre Bloch softening the edges and letting a little air in.

Bloch’s approach worked by giving a distinctive suppleness to the central Allegretto, and even in the faster movements, he found ways of teasing an uncommon expressiveness from Stravinsky’s stabbing counterpoint.

If it offered a fresh perspective and suited the accommodating Grand Hall acoustics, there was – particularly in the opening movement – a sense that, without the rhythmic heat, this work loses much of its intrinsic zest.

But that all became a distant memory as Bloch turned his mind to the more malleable music of Ibert, Mozart and Beethoven. He was joined in Jacques Ibert’s jaunty Flute Concerto by SCO flautist Alison Mitchell, whose melting tone and precise technique coloured the performance with enchantment.

It is mostly easy-going music, from the breezy opening Allegro to its jazz-infused Finale, but there is an lugubriousness in the central Andante, a bitter-sweetness, that underpins the warm and sumptuous foreground.

Mitchell and the SCO captured all that in a performance that was as thoughtful as it was effortless.

There are many ways to read Mozart, and in the dazzling little Divertimento in D, it was clear that Bloch’s interest was in letting the melodic lines breathe, though never at the expense of the music’s unceasing energy. It was more a sprightly stroll in the park than a sprint to the finish, and with the SCO strings hanging on his every hand gesture, the end result was unstintingly pleasurable and occasionally intoxicating.

Bloch gave the same French-polish finish to Beethoven’s Symphony No 1, its exposed opening cultivated to perfection, the momentum of the ensuing allegro bristling with light and shade, the Andante lovingly shaped, the Menuetto punchy and precise, the Finale resounding and incendiary.

This was Bloch’s second outing with the SCO. He’s a young conductor with a lot to say. If you’re in Findhorn tonight, you can find out for yourself.

• Universal Hall, Findhorn, tonight