Classical review: SCO - Romantic Century, Queen’s Hall Edinburgh

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It’s always nice to see orchestral musicians stepping into the limelight, in this instance the SCO’s prinicipal cellist David Watkin as soloist in Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor.

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While musicologists debate the merits, or otherwise, of what Schumann understatingly called a “Concert Piece”, Watkin breathed new life into it with this intelligent and sensitive account. In particular, he used the cello’s warm, honeyed tones to beautifully articulate the aching tenderness of the slow movement, featuring a poignant duet with the principal cello. Perhaps if Schumann had had Watkin to champion this demanding work, it might have gained a premiere in the composer’s lifetime.

Swedish composer Rolf Martinsson is fortunate to have enjoyed many performances of his homage to Arnold Schoenberg, A S in Memoriam, with the SCO giving its Scottish premiere. Martinsson unashamedly draws heavily on Schoenberg’s Verklarte Nacht, using the same instrumentation for 15 strings and creating similar luscious and intimate textures in this beguiling work. As conductor Andrew Manze pointed out, Schoenberg’s piece was written just before melody and harmony were stretched to breaking point.

Beethoven’s Symphony No.1 was also a seminal work, premiered in 1800 when Napoleon was busy conquering Italy. It’s difficult to imagine how the music of this rebellious composer, who broke all of the rules, must have sounded to audiences of the time. However, there was a freshness to Manze’s energetic interpretation, with the orchestra relishing the characteristic Beethovenian outbursts and off-beat accents that still have the power to thrill and excite.