Music review: SCO, Jonathan Heyward, Ana Quintans & Julien Van Mellaerts, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

My mixing up music by Ravel and Mahler, the SCO produced an evening full of surprises and delights, writes David Kettle

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra

SCO, Jonathan Heyward, Ana Quintans & Julien Van Mellaerts, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh *****

This was a high-risk, high-concept concert, shuffling together the five movements of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite and 12 of Mahler’s song settings from Des Knaben Wunderhorn in an unbroken sequence of music, one that jumped back and forth between the two composers’ contrasting perspectives on fairytales and folk stories. And it even had to do without its intended conductor: with Joana Carneiro indisposed, young US conductor Jonathan Heyward stepped in at short notice and did a marvellously incisive job, all clipped rhythms and bristling precision, drawing vivid playing from the SCO musicians.

But despite the sometimes jarring collisions of musical style and material (no doubt intentional), this was a cunningly crafted, emotionally devastating evening that, rather than simply surveying some evocative fairytale creations, shone a bright light on profound themes of innocence and experience, as the sonic magic of Ravel’s wide-eyed, childlike wonder butted up against Mahler’s pitch-black songs of poverty, war and despair.

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    Heyward was joined by two remarkable vocal soloists in Ana Quintans and Julien Van Mellaerts, both fearsomely focused and thoroughly committed to the concert’s concept and guiding ideas, delivering intimate yet deeply involving accounts. Van Mellaerts virtually spat out Mahler’s bitter military “Revelge”, for instance, while Quintans delivered a heartbreaking closing “Urlicht” (better known as the fourth movement of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony), easing the control and restraint she’d shown throughout to swell into a voice that filled the hall.

    The SCO musicians were on exceptional form, alive to both Ravel’s naivety and Mahler’s caustic sarcasm – Alison Green delivered a particularly memorable Beast waltzing with his Beauty, for example, parped out teasingly on contrabassoon. It was maybe not the way you’d always want to hear the two pieces, and maybe not what their composers had originally intended, but you’d imagine that Mahler and Ravel would be as surprised and delighted with the revelations as the SCO’s audience.

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