Music review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra
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Sometimes a change of plan can provide surprises aplenty, as was the case in this celebration of the much missed talents of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. The composer’s new accordion concerto, scheduled for this concert, sadly wasn’t completed before his death earlier this year and due to an indisposed Alexandre Bloch, it was conductor Rumon Gamba who set the exhilarating pace for this musical whirlwind.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra *****

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Maxwell Davies wrote Strathclyde Concerto No.2 for cello and orchestra in 1989 for William Conway, the orchestra’s principal cellist at the time. Back as soloist 27 years later, Conway’s relationship with this formidable work has grown and deepened. The opening moderato is fairly conventional, but towards the close, the double basses start pumping iron and this powerful energy carries through to the lyrical slow movement.

Conway’s warm tones and beautiful phrasing emphasise the elemental nature of the concerto which explodes in the combative finale where the cello and drums are pursued by the growling tones of the bass clarinet.

The concerto was a striking contrast to the coruscating waltz beats and smoky hues in Sibelius’s Valse Triste and Scene with Cranes, incidental music to the play Kuolema (Death).

Gamba and the SCO made every note count here and also in the ferocious Hungarian dance rhythms driving Bartok’s Divertimento for String Orchestra.

But it was Max’s musical evocation of a wild, drunken Orkney Wedding with Sunrise, complete with piper, that stole the show as Gamba and the SCO embraced the drunken humour and spirit with brio.