Röschmann Brings Berg’s Shimmering Fin-de-siècle Sound World to Edinburgh

15/01/2016

Brahms, Berg: Dorothea Röschmann (soprano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Robin Ticciati (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 14.01.2016. (SRT)

Brahms, Tragic Overture
Brahms, Symphony No. 3
Berg, Seven Early Songs

Robin Ticciati’s Brahms series with the SCO continues with the Third Symphony but, like his take on the First, it was a mixed success. The SCO’s great virtue in Brahms is the lean, transparent sound, but Ticciati overplayed this in the work’s beginning. The opening fanfares and the violins’ tearing down the scale needs to really hit you in the solar plexus, but Ticciati seemed so concerned to shade the sound that it lost its visceral impact. It reminded me of his take on Schumann’s Rhenish symphony, whose first flush suffered the same fate, and the finale lacked heft in the same way. His fast tempi also seemed rather business-like in those outer movements, even rushed in places, and the finale too felt cluttered and thrown together. That said, I enjoyed his dancerly way with the rhythms – the first movement’s second theme felt like a waltz – and both the middle movements were much more welcoming, with a beautiful sound-texture that might sound bigger in other orchestras, but won’t sound more stylish.

The Tragic Overture was much more successful. This time it sounded exciting and genuinely powerful, with Ticciati’s wide-eyed, almost febrile direction alive to every nuance of the drama, using dynamic extremes to increase the tension. This time the wiry violin sound, plangent oboe solo and threatening brass fanfares sounded focused and intense, with no danger of a lack of heft.

The real jewel of tonight’s concert, however, was a special guest appearance from Dorothea Röschmann in Berg’s Seven Early Songs. Her rich, buoyant voice was just right for Berg’s shimmering fin-de-siècle sound world, cresting the top notes with sumptuous bloom, and matching the dark, fruity orchestral textures like a diamond against a black cushion. At times, such as at the end of Traumgekrönt, she seemed almost to settle into the beauty of her own sound, and it was remarkable that she could move so easily between the knowing awareness of Liebesode and the innocent, almost childlike feeling of Im Zimmer. This was magical, with the orchestra demonstrating perfectly that Berg’s orchestral arrangement is much more effective than the piano version.

Simon Thompson

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