Music review: SCO & Lorenza Borrani, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

This was a performance characterised by a strong sense of shared purpose, writes David Kettle

Scottish Chamber Orchestra & Lorenza Borrani, Queen’s Hall ****

It’s a small thing, but the musicians of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra rarely make a formal entrance on stage as a single group. When they did – with Chamber Orchestra of Europe leader Lorenza Borrani going on to direct from the SCO leader’s chair – it only served to highlight a unity of purpose, and also that this was going to be chamber music on a grand scale, with the musicians individually engaged, involved and interacting.

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That was clear in Borrani’s sunny opener, a collection of Renaissance dances done up for orchestra by Venetian avant-gardist Bruno Maderna. It was clear, rich, gleaming, with all the character and warmth you might hope for. Borrani’s second offering, however, was more problematic. Mahler’s orchestral recasting of Beethoven’s “Serioso” String Quartet didn’t go down well with Viennese listeners in 1898 – and you can see why. It’s an intense, turbulent piece, and some moments sounded earth-shakingly powerful when cast across a dozens-strong string band rather than a mere four players.

But isn’t struggle part of the piece’s whole identity and purpose? Nonetheless, Borrani led a seething, surging account – so brusque, in fact, that its famous opening idea got somewhat lost in the fury. But even her efforts couldn’t make sense of Beethoven’s bewildering shift to the smiling major just before the end – “a bit random”, as SCO violinist Siún Milne so persuasively put it in her enjoyable intro.

There was little chamber intimacy after the interval in a joyfully raucous, magnificent Beethoven Seventh Symphony, from pompous Handelian strutting in its shapely slow introduction to a bumptious finale with a distinctly deranged edge to it. If Borrani’s galvanising account took anything from chamber music, though, it was commitment and conviction, and a strong sense of purpose shared by all the players: this was their music, delivered direct to listeners, and all the more compelling for that. No wonder it got an ovation.

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