Music review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Principal flautist Alison Mitchell plays the Nielsen solo. Picture: Contributed

Principal flautist Alison Mitchell plays the Nielsen solo. Picture: Contributed

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THE SCO continued its joint 150th anniversary celebrations of Sibelius and Nielsen on Thursday, under the baton of Joseph Swensen, and with music that glorified the composers’ position as genuine 20th century originals.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

JJJJ

The SCO continued its joint 150th anniversary celebrations of Sibelius and Nielsen on Thursday, under the baton of Joseph Swensen, and with music that glorified the composers’ position as genuine 20th century originals.

It was like a Nielsen sandwich, his flirtatious Flute Concerto providing the tart filling between Sibelius’s incidental music for Pelléas et Mélisande and his punchy Third Symphony.

Swensen homed in on the gutsy, gnarly textures of the short Pelléas et Mélisande tableaux, from the crazy sonorities of At The Castle Gate, via the oriental sheen of At The Seashore, to the airy folkish charm of the Pastorale and the melting sadness of Mélisande’s Death.

Occasionally, that emphasis overlooked points of detail, such as balance (over-heavy timpani) and togetherness between the wind and strings. But there was poetry in Swensen’s vision, and that was a joy in itself.

Principal flute Alison Mitchell took the floor as soloist in the Nielsen, where her familiarity with fellow SCO players proved its worth in lively interplays with such unlikely solo instruments as trombone or viola. Eccentricity and touches of the grotesque, frenetic excitement and unsettled beauty, all played a part in bringing this delightful work to life.

Then the Sibelius symphony – a work that strips away the unnecessary and simply gets on with the job. The craggy opening was rugged and jaunty, the Andantino touched by the quixotic, the finale inexorable. Again balance issues surfaced, but that’s the downside to playing hefty works in the Queen’s Hall.

KEN WALTON

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