THE UK premiere of Stephen Goss’s Theorbo Concerto, given by Matthew Wadsworth and the SCO Strings, also happened to be the first concerto ever written for this 17th century lute-like instrument. Commissioned by Wadsworth, the five-movement work was not only a vehicle for his talents but a chance to hear the theorbo, with the help of amplification, in a modern context.
SCO Strings & Matthew Wadsworth, The Brunton, Musselburgh ***
In the prelude the tight string textures framed the theorbo’s delicate silvery harmonics while the combination of Wadsworth’s mellow tones with the plucked strings of the double bass in the interlude revealed the instrument’s jazzier side.
Wadsworth’s lively percussive thrumming also added texture and vibrancy to the otherwise mediocre readings of Purcell’s Chacony in G Minor and Geminiani’s Concerto Grosso (after Corelli) ‘La Folia’ by the ensemble, directed from the violin by Benjamin Marquise Gilmore. These theme and variation works would have benefited from more subtle tonal and dynamic shading and crisper phrasing. There was a lighter energy in Warlock’s 1926 nod to Renaissance dances in his Capriol Suite, especially the playful pizzicato of the Tordion.
But what a difference in the second half, when the violins and violas abandoned their chairs and stood up to play. With the feisty on-form viola section setting the bar high with their rich, gutsy sound in Mendelssohn’s phenomenal String Symphony No 10, the violins had to work hard to keep up. Along with Grieg’s elegant Holberg Suite, this was the stand-out performance in this mixed bag of a programme.