Music review: SCO & Pekka Kuusisto, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Vivaldi’s overplayed Four Seasons emerged bright, shining and new in Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto’s freewheeling reimagining with the SCO, writes David Kettle

SCO & Pekka Kuusisto, Usher Hall, Edinburgh *****

“We’ve actually rehearsed quite a lot – I think it’s going to be fine,” quipped violinist Pekka Kuusisto from the Usher Hall stage before this concert with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, in what was more of a stand-up routine than any kind of conventional concert introduction. It broke the ice brilliantly, and set the tone for a concert that was enormous fun, but also deeply provocative and persuasive.

And what Kuusisto and the orchestra produced was, of course, way more than fine. This was Kuusisto’s idiosyncratic take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, one of the most hackneyed, overplayed works in the entire classical repertoire, but rediscovered bright, shining and new in the Finnish violinist’s freewheeling reimagining with Swedish cittern virtuoso Ale Carr. They incorporated Nordic folk, bits of Beethoven and Vaughan Williams reworked as trad tunes, plus microtonal improvisations and more, linking or offsetting Vivaldi’s quartet of concertos to miraculous, revelatory effect.

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Sometimes tunes flowed into one another; sometimes they stood apart in blunt contrasts. In many ways it was Kuusisto’s musical playground, a familiar musical setting in which to have fun with colleagues – though it was delivered with steely conviction and searing insight too. Kuusisto was a bracingly athletic soloist, often taking movements at a brisk pace, and Carr made for a thoroughly convincing continuo contributor as well as a compelling soloist. It was a thrilling switchback ride, one of discoveries, unexpected detours and surprising perspectives, and the SCO players – mostly standing – ably matched Kuusisto’s flexibility, commitment and belief.

The more conventional offerings before the interval were no less compelling. Kuusisto was an energetic but precise conductor in Respighi’s The Birds, but the iridescent harmonies and textures he conjured in Andrea Tarrodi’s Birds of Paradise really hit the mark. Most of all, it was the sheer joy of sharing music – in what felt like a newly formed community encompassing soloists, orchestra and rapt listeners – that made the evening so deeply moving and rewarding.