United Kingdom Schumann, Brahms: Alina Pogostkina (violin), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Robin Ticciati (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 28.11.2013 (SRT)
Schumann: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3 “Rhenish”
Brahms: Violin Concerto
The SCO’s Schumann cycle, one of the highlights of their 40th Anniversary Season, concluded as it began – with playing of great distinction and conducting of architectural intelligence. I mentioned last week that Schumann’s music means a lot to Robin Ticciati, and you could tell from the way he lovingly crafts every phrase but without ever lapsing into sentimentality. Throughout, in fact, he retained that structural intelligence that made his readings of Nos. 1 & 4 so compelling. The string sound retained its very lean quality, playing with minimal vibrato, and this created a fascinating halo around the brass chorale that opens the second symphony, serene and involving without being indulgent. However, they were then full of bite for the scherzo, and in the finales of both symphonies they exuded life and excitement. It’s that ability to create a distinctive (and very versatile) sound that so distinguishes Ticciati’s work with the SCO, and it extended to the use of the brass, too. The horns, so important to the sound world of the Rhenish, rang out with distinctness and authority but were thoroughly embedded into the orchestral texture too so that they never hogged the limelight unnecessarily. Likewise, the trombones made a big difference when they were used.
Ticciati’s skill as a shaper of Schumann’s music is very impressive. I loved the way he tends to make a theme emerge rather than burst onto the scene: he did that repeatedly in No. 4 last week, and it worked very well with the delicate emergence of the main theme of No. 2’s first movement. I also loved the lilt of No. 3’s second movement; a most beguiling swaying feel, featuring a delicious middle string sound that was built from the bottom up. He crafted the extraordinary “Cologne Cathedral” movement with a sense of solemnity that bordered on the sinister. The only place his approach didn’t work for me – and this was to do with that distinctive string sound – was at the very opening of the Rhenish: the launch of the main theme needs to start the work with a bang, but here the orchestra sounded as though they hadn’t found their feet yet. If that was the plan then I didn’t buy it.
Having the Brahms Violin Concerto as the filler in this sandwich was largesse indeed, and the orchestral sound was beautiful throughout, with greater vibrato accentuating the difference. Here, again, Ticciati was keen to apply plenty of light and shade to the sound, perhaps a little too much in the opening tutti which had a propensity to fade suddenly for no good reason. No complaints about the playing of Alina Pogostkina, however, who brought extraordinary expressivity to Brahms’ solo line. I loved the way she had the ability to turn on a sixpence when it came tothe musical mood, striding urgently onto the scene at her entry but then sweetening the mood delectably within moments. She was at her best in the soaring, ardent closing pages of the sublime Adagio, and the stillness of her stage presence showed an admirable desire to let the music take centre-stage.