Music review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra with John Butt

Another concert, another stand-in, and another revered musician gamely jumping in to help out at the last minute '“ in this case period specialist John Butt, the Dunedin Consort's music director and professor of music in Glasgow, filling in on the podium for an indisposed Raphaël Pichon in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's evening of Schubert and Mozart.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra gave a rousing, driven performance

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh *****

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Butt made the concert entirely his own, however: right from the gruff, rugged muscularity of its brooding opening bars, it felt like Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony had been concentrated down to its essence, with huge but never unconvincing contrasts between the composer’s abject despair and his lyrical optimism. It was fresh and invigorating, full of purposeful detail, but never simply provocative for its own sake.

The Schubert was just a warm-up, however, for the evening’s big offering: Mozart’s grand Mass in C minor, also incomplete (inexplicably left without an Agnus Dei movement), but given a rousing, driven performance by Butt and his stage-filling forces. Particularly impressive were the singers of the SCO Chorus, mixed together in a joyful jumble rather than separated by voice type, creating a compelling sense of individuality in exposed lines while also achieving a richer blend in tutti sections – a masterstroke from Butt and chorus director Gregory Batsleer. Anna Dennis and Mhairi Lawson were contrasting but well-matched as Butt’s two soprano soloists, although tenor Robin Tritschler struggled to match their strong projection, despite the unforced lyricism of his singing. Like the Schubert that preceded it, Butt’s Mozart was sharply defined and full of powerful contrasts, and it brought a bracing concert to a resplendent conclusion.