Classical review: SCO, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

THIS Russian/French programme fizzed with playful energy in the hands of conductor Alexandre Bloch, whose rapport with the SCO deepens and gets more exciting with each visit.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Picture: Contributed
Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Picture: Contributed

Scottish Chamber Orchestra | Rating: **** | Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

He deftly melded the baroque with the avant garde in an incisive reading of Stravinsky’s Concerto in E-flat “Dumbarton Oaks”, subtly swerving around the beat and letting the jazz riffs really swing, and there were pranks and in-jokes aplenty in Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No 2 with soloist Anika Vavić.

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This piece only works if everything is pushed to the limit and her stonking performance had the audience on the edge of their seats. Vavić sprinted from one end of the keyboard to the other in a series of increasingly skittish exercises while the strings scurried and the high-pitched flutes wailed. By contrast Vavić’s encore of Scriabin’s Fragility and Danse Languid from Op 51 Pieces provided a wistful calmness.

Bloch highlighted the smouldering undercurrent in Ravel’s dream-like Pavane pour une infante défunte, originally written for piano, but it was Bizet’s Symphony in C that had everyone swaying. Written when the composer was just 17, it’s youthful swagger and exuberance are compelling.

Bloch nicely judged the declamatory opening movement with its tuneful crispness, while the adagio with its heart melting oboe melody underpinned by raindrop-like pizzicato strings hints at the composer’s future opera output.

A Scottish-sounding drone in the cellos powered the scherzo while the racy finale made one wish the young Bizet had written more works for orchestra.