Music Review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh

THE Scottish Chamber Orchestra with conductor Gábor Káli launched their summer tour at the Brunton Theatre with a programme of repertoire favourites. Despite the theatre’s rather dry acoustics, they skillfully evoked Scotland’s tempestuous seascapes, especially around Fingal’s Cave, in Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture.

SCO conductor Gábor Káli

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh ***

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Stepping out from the orchestra, section principal Maximiliano Martín gave an expressive reading of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto. He coaxed a range of mellifluous tones from the clarinet; rich and mellow in the lower registers and intensely lyrical in the upper ones. There was a playfulness and lightness of touch to his rippling arpeggios in the sublime slow movement and an abundance of varied textures in the finale. This was an inspired and thoughtful performance, well-matched by the orchestra’s sensitive and nicely shaped accompaniment. James MacMillan’s breathy, wind-swept From Galway, for solo clarinet, was a well-chosen encore which further showcased Martín’s superb technique and musicianship.

Beethoven’s Symphony No.4 is often eclipsed by his more popular symphonies, but it has a quirky energy that was well-captured here. Káli encouraged subtle dynamic shading in the mysterious first movement with incredibly soft timpani rumblings and exquisitely articulated bassoon riffs. Pumping heart-beat pulses in the strings keep the adagio going but there was a tendency to flatten out the off-beat rhythms rather than swing them in the Minuetto and Trio, a double scherzo in disguise. The orchestra also made heavy weather of the Beethovian contrasts in the snappy finale where crisper, more clearly defined phrasing would have given the music a much-needed lift.