With principal conductor Robin Ticciati still indisposed, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra had had to come up with a plan B for its nicely provocative concert contrasting Mozart keyboard concertos with two works very much of our own times. What they arrived at, however, brought some wholly unexpected and exciting new perspectives on the evening.
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Kristian Bezuidenhout *****
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
First up, young British conductor Duncan Ward – championed by Simon Rattle, and you could see why – who directed the two contemporary works with elegant precision and seemingly unstoppable enthusiasm. He was in his element amid the knowing wit of Thomas Adès’s Chamber Symphony, in a bright, eager, expertly paced account, and he was highly persuasive, too, in the almost expressionist lyricism of Helen Grime’s A Cold Spring, sculpting its angular lines with a rapturous richness. The two works were only brief, but they still displayed a superb, effortless partnership between conductor and ensemble.
For the two Mozart concertos, however, South African fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout was not only making his SCO debut as soloist, but also as conductor, directing the ensemble from the keyboard – and with no more than a few flicks of his head and a gesture here and there, he did a marvellously incisive job of it. His Piano Concerto No. 22 might have felt a touch thoughtful, more focused on imposing grandeur than energy, but his Piano Concerto No. 20 was bracingly brisk and immaculately articulated. And with the fastidious detail and vigorous freshness from both men and orchestra alike, it was as if Ticciati had been there all along.