United Kingdom Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Beethoven: Veronika Eberle (violin), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Robin Ticciati (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 11.10.2012 (SRT)
Berlioz: Overture, King Lear
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”
There are few composers whose life imitated their art as closely as that of Berlioz. He wrote his King Lear overture in the aftermath of an emotional shock wherein he fiancée dumped him for Pleyel, the piano manufacturer. Berlioz’s typically reasonable reaction was to set out for Paris with the intention of murdering the pair of them before turning the gun on himself. Thankfully he stopped off in Nice en route where his fury abated and he set to work on Lear, but the emotional trauma of his own situation must surely have found an equivalent in the tragic drama of the play. The writing for the strings in the overture is spare and turbulent, lightened with the occasional flourish for the winds and a very expressive oboe solo (presumably acting for Cordelia). The SCO matched the mood with string playing that was open, transparent, even a little raw at times, but quite in keeping with the mood not only of Shakespeare’s play but, presumably, that of the composer’s emotional state at the time. Berlioz’s ending is surprisingly upbeat, though; hardly a reflection of the body count at the end of the drama. I wonder just what he was up to?
King Lear’s infrequent appearances on the concert platform mean that most of us listen to it with fresh ears when we come across it. It’s a tribute to Veronika Eberle’s violin playing that she made me listen to Mendelssohn’s ever popular concerto with just as much freshness, due to the unusual but powerfully effective manner in which she approached it. Hers was a very subtly graded, delicate performance, a world away from the barn-storming, warhorse interpretation I’ve heard so many times. The first theme, normally so strident, here sounded delicate and gentle, almost a little withdrawn, with each phrase seeming to respond to the musical line in a quite unique manner, with the conversational air you might normally expect from a chamber piece. Ticciati and the orchestra responded in kind, though even in the finale they seemed to be holding something back. Stylistically, Eberle opened up into a lovely, broad sound for the main theme of the Andante, though here too there was an introspective air. For all the introversion, no-one could argue with the quality of the playing, which was magnificent: delicate and sparkling, almost forensic in its precision.
After such a gentle, introverted concerto, everyone let rip in an exhilarating performance of the Eroica. This is the first time Ticciati has conducted this symphony in Scotland, and while there weren’t that many surprises in terms of texture or tempo, he still brought freshness and vigour to the score, blowing off the cobwebs and shining a searchlight through the texture to reveal things that you had forgotten were there. The two opening chords, for all their brevity, were crunchy and full of life, giving way to a pulsing, exciting tempo for the opening Allegro which carried all before it. The funeral march moved with equivalent power, be it in the grief of the main march theme or the moment when the sun shines through the clouds in the central section, commanding in its intensity. The use of natural brass and timps gave the orchestral sound an entirely distinctive colour, nowhere more so than in the scherzo’s trio, where the horns were clearly having a whale of a time. Playing aside, the most impressive thing about the performance was the clarity of Ticciati’s vision, carrying the score forward in a manner that felt slimmed down but none the less full of conviction, even if a little headlong at times. The final pages, leading up to and including the coda, had a sweep of majesty that larger orchestras seldom achieve, and the elation of the final bars was tremendous.