Music review: SCO & Emmanuel Krivine, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

The internationally acclaimed Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
The internationally acclaimed Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
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FROM the sublime to the – well, far-fetched, even hallucinatory, might be kinder adjectives for Berlioz’s larger-than-life Symphonie fantastique, which formed one half of the SCO’s all-French high-contrast season finale, alongside the aching restraint of Fauré’s sumptuous Requiem.

SCO & Emmanuel Krivine, Usher Hall, Edinburgh *****

It was a bold combination of repertoire, but it paid off magnificently under the eminently adaptable conducting of Emmanuel Krivine. He was all about the storytelling in a rip-roaring Symphonie fantastique, breathing fresh life and spontaneity into the volatile moods of the opening movement’s reveries, then increasingly deranged in the ball’s seemingly nonchalant waltzes, and playing up the grotesquerie of the closing witches’ sabbath with glee. And the SCO players responded with a lithe, agile account, one that highlighted the composer’s orchestrations – magical and macabre by turns – brilliantly.

It was a glorious example of orchestral music as aural theatre. But despite all the Symphonie’s dramatic high jinks, it was the grace and elegance of Fauré’s Requiem that really lodged in the memory. The SCO Chorus was on outstanding form, velvety in the opening “Introit,” shimmering in the closing “In paradisum,” exquisitely balanced throughout, and with impeccable enunciation that conveyed every word. And despite Krivine’s slightly idiosyncratic tempos, he delivered a luminous, buoyant account that was touching in its fragility, with Swiss baritone Rudolf Rosen a bronze-voiced presence in two movements.

Nonetheless, though the first half closed with Fauré transporting the souls of the departed to the consolations of paradise, by the concert’s end we were dumped in among Berlioz’s cavorting ghouls in a vision of hell. A nice touch from the SCO.