“THIS is a very well-known piece in Sweden – which isn’t saying much...” British conductor Andrew Manze’s otherwise warm introduction to the climax of his concert with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra – the Serenade in F by Wilhelm Stenhammar, from Manze’s adopted homeland of Sweden – felt worryingly like damning with faint praise.
SCO and Francesco Piemontesi, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh *****
Manze acknowledged that few in the audience would know it, but hoped that by the end of its 40-minute span we’d love it. And indeed, it was hard not to be charmed by Stenhammar’s restless, eager-to-please invention, which wore its broad-ranging influences – from Mendelssohn to Richard Strauss, Wagner to Sibelius – so proudly that they sounded more like direct quotations.
Manze made a point of thanking the SCO players for their hard work in rehearsing what’s not an easy piece, and their performance was exceptionally fine – brightly coloured, superbly shaped, shot through with utter conviction and no lack of wit. They made a strong case for what is quite a singular work.
Before the interval, Manze attacked Stravinsky and Mozart with the same enthusiasm and verve. Pianist Francesco Piemontesi can sometimes come across as slightly finicky and pedantic, but his Mozart Piano Concerto No. 19 was simply spellbinding: fresh and direct in a supple opening movement; exquisitely blended and balanced in its singing slow movement. Manze supplied a beautifully luminous, high-definition orchestral backdrop, carrying on the clipped rhythms and tightly controlled energy of his opener, Stravinsky’s ear-cleansing Concerto in D, where he revelled in the composer’s sometimes abrasive grit and rawness. It was a concert to entertain, provoke and inspire. - David Kettle