Music review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Nicolas Altstaedt's technique is phenomenal, but there was a lack of balance between the cello and orchestral sound
Nicolas Altstaedt's technique is phenomenal, but there was a lack of balance between the cello and orchestral sound
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Recordings of church bells from across Scotland feature in Martin Suckling’s atmospheric new work, Meditation (after Donne), commissioned by the SCO to mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice. Taking John Donne’s plea for a shared humanity in his Meditation XVII for inspiration, Suckling beautifully evokes the conflicting emotions that peace brings. Keening strings and the mournful wail of an oboe are united by the solemn tolling of the bells which segue into bird song in the final bars of this moving elegy.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh ***

Conducting and playing an instrument at the same time is a bit like one-handed juggling and Nicolas Altstaedt just about managed this feat in Schumann’s Cello Concerto. His phenomenal technique, full-bodied tone and energetic stage presence gave impetus to his lively interpretation. But there was often a lack of balance between the cello and orchestral sound and the overall dynamics could have been more varied and nuanced.

Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, originally written as a birthday serenade for his wife, also struggled to find coherence, with Altstaedt unwilling to unfurl the work’s gorgeous operatic textures and lyricism. Furthermore, the intimate warmth of the woodwinds wasn’t matched by the strings, their sound skeletal for the most part.

Beethoven’s Symphony No 8 with its surprising key changes, is quite a radical work. At last the chemistry between Altstaedt and the orchestra seemed to gel as they pulled out all the stops in a cracking performance. The rumble of timpani, elegant bassoon lines and the basses driving the beat were superb. SUSAN NICKALLS