Music review: SCO & Pekka Kuusisto, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto. Picture: Kaapo Kamu
Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto. Picture: Kaapo Kamu
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YOU can almost guarantee you won’t get an everyday, run-of-the-mill classical concert (whatever that is) when Pekka Kuusisto’s on stage. Instead, the ace Finnish violinist – and, a recent addition to his craft, conductor – teases, prods and provokes, butting contrasting composers and styles, even ensembles, up against each other in events that are free-flowing, playful and gently challenging.

SCO & Pekka Kuusisto, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh ****

Which was exactly the case with his dazzling concert with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the first of three this season as a featured artist. First he mixed Bach and contemporary Swedish composer Anders Hillborg, a marshmallowy account of the former’s Third Brandenburg Concerto with a select group of nine SCO strings, playing as though entirely for their own pleasure and friendship, followed by the madcap but very moving Bach Materia by the latter. Hillborg’s creation was full of crazy switches between styles, whistling and humming from Kuusisto as soloist, a Hendrix-inspired duet from Kuusisto and SCO principal bassist Nikita Naumov, all delivered with winning panache and suitable theatricality.

It was a more reflective Kuusisto who returned alone after the interval, however, to intermingle three dances from Bach’s Third Partita with three Finnish folk tunes – beautifully unadorned, quiet, trippingly rhythmic and frankly hard to tell apart, which was surely the point.

He closed, however, with a conductor’s baton in his hand and the SCO in front of him. And if his Sibelius Fifth Symphony was sometimes a little foursquare, it made up for that with abundant wonder and sincerity. It was a startling evening that drew a packed audience, and one that reaffirmed the shared joys of hearing and making music.