Classical review: SCO: Antonio Mėndez, Glasgow

Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Antonio Mendez. Picture: Leslie Burgher
Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Antonio Mendez. Picture: Leslie Burgher
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Majorcan-born conductor Antonio Méndez, when he debuted last summer with the SCO at the St Magnus Festival, struck me as a man worth watching. His return reaffirms that opinion.

SCO: Antonio Mėndez | City Halls, Glasgow | Rating ****

Within a couple of bars of Haydn’s emotionally-charged Symphony No 99, he had the orchestra sounding like a band floating magically on air.

The opening shifted excitedly from the gripping opulence of its slow introduction to the teasing harmonic surprises of the Vivace. But Méndez wrapped such thrills in a blanket of luxuriant tone, even more telling in the melting poeticism of the Adagio. The flurry of the Menuet, and whimsy of the Finale completed this svelte, smiling performance.

Italian soprano Laura Giordano - a late replacement for the advertised singer - sang a neatly balanced selection of Mozart arias, all from the composer’s Da Ponte operatic collaborations: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte.

Giordano found affectionate nuances in each: the innocent simplicity of Susanna’s “Deh viene non tardar”; the ambivalent anxiety of Donna Anna’s “Non mi dir”; and the radiant assertion of Fiordiligi’s “Come scoglio”. Her intonation, though, fell persistently under the true centre of the note, robbing her otherwise lovely portrayals of their ultimate finesse.

Beethoven’s Symphony No 7 signalled a return to the precision engineering of the Haydn, and a performance packed with astonishing detail and precision, with one frustrating exception. Why have unequal numbers of first and second violins when playing with antiphonally positioned strings? The imbalance was audible and unnecessary.