Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****
Schuldt’s control of Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto No 5, something of a juggernaut, was impressive. He kept the dynamic balance between orchestra and soloist in check giving Elisabeth Leonskaja the space to explore the real substance of this work. One of the pianistic greats, Leonskaja lets the music speak for itself in her no-nonsense approach. She combines a commanding power with the most delicate of touches; the grandeur of the majestic opening chords giving way to ethereal tinkling music-box passages. Then she made time stand still in the exquisite adagio with her trance-like trills. These melted into the slow-motion theme that exploded into a finale that raced in leaps and bounds to the finish line.
It was a case of swings and roundabouts with the pieces in the Russian-dominated first half. While Schuldt and the players gave a characterful account of Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 1 ‘Classical’, there were times when the strong woodwind contributions came at the price of a too thin string sound.
Likewise with Barshai’s bulked up arrangement of Shostakovich’s String Quartet No.8, the Chamber Symphony Op 110a. The SCO captured the intensity and bleakness of this gut-wrenching work but their account was perhaps too precise and polished.
Ultimately it lacked the raw visceral energy of the original version which packs such an emotional punch.