Music review: SCO/Manze, City Halls, Glasgow

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra
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Andrew Manze is an irrepressible bundle of energy. Gangly as a caricature, his arms flap in every direction, a super-charged counterpoint of instructions resembling a hyperactive traffic cop one minute, a frenetic shadow boxer the next. But as a conductor, and as a class act in turning intellectual thought into meaningful action, he gets everything, often more, in return.

SCO/Manze, City Halls, Glasgow ****

With three Beethoven symphonies to deliver in one go – Nos 2, 4 and 5 constituted the second programme in the SCO’s ongoing series of all nine symphonies – the challenge was one of mental stamina and expressive definition, for both audience and performers.

Manze played essentially to the written word. In all three performances, Beethoven’s defining language – motivic ingenuity subjected to endless manipulation and variation, coloured by micro dynamic detail and bound by holistic coherence – came vividly to life, Manze finding endless opportunities to reveal a buried emphasis or to sharpen theatrical rhetoric.

The overarching message in the Second Symphony was its uninhibited breeziness, shot through with enough electrically-charged surprises to emblazon Beethoven’s signature disruptive tendencies. The Fourth elicited a richer response – Brahms before his time in the cushioning intensity of the Adagio – and the judicious flavouring of its darker undertones.

The Fifth was delivered with taut, clinical incision, but ultimately at the expense of the inexorable.

If the famous opening lacked impulsive nuclear volatility, so too the finale its conclusive combustible triumphalism. Even Manze’s prescriptive hold occasionally faltered, some rhythmic attacks suffering in turn. Nonetheless, an illuminating evening. Ken Walton