Gig review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Edinburgh

Cellist Steven Isserlis put in a relaxed, effortless solo performance. Picture: Contributed

Cellist Steven Isserlis put in a relaxed, effortless solo performance. Picture: Contributed

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WHEN does a chamber orchestra become a symphony orchestra? I found myself asking that question in the second half of Thursday’s Usher Hall concert, at the point in the evening where the ranks of the SCO swelled to such an extent for Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, you might easily have been looking at the RSNO.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra - Usher Hall, Edinburgh

***

The truth is, the SCO “play” like a chamber orchestra, in that the emphasis is on clarity and intimacy rather than opulence of sound, regardless of the number of players. So this performance of the Dvorak, with the relaxed and effortless solo playing of cellist Steven Isserlis, and conducted by Robin Ticciati, had fresh perspectives to offer.

That wasn’t the case in the early stages of the opening movement, where Ticciati struggled to establish stability in the tempi.

But once Isserlis asserted his own presence, things clicked into place. His wasn’t a big sound, but one that nurtured inner lyrical warmth. When Ticciati struck the perfect balance with that, the results were convincing. But there were moments where the orchestra was frustratingly overpowering, and not always heart-warming enough with it.

The first half – a porcelain combination of Ligeti and Haydn for the second week in a row – struck gold. Ticciati teased out the silken fibres Ligeti’s Melodien with a masterly mix of delicacy and precision, achieving a timeless and gently euphoric effect.

Haydn’s La Chasse Symphony, despite some uncommonly ragged attacks, was the perfect foil to the Ligeti, full of bristling energy and explosive finesse.

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