SCO Musicians Excel as Soloists in Strauss Concertos

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, R Strauss: Maximiliano Martín (clarinet), Peter Whelan (bassoon), Alec Frank-Gemill (horn), Clemens Schuldt (conductor), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 3.4.2014 (SRT)

Mozart:    Symphony in D, K. 203 Symphony
No. 36 in C “Linz”
Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1

Mozart’s K. 203 “symphony” is basically a reduction of his Colloredo Serenade, shorn of a couple of Menuets and a slow movement.  It’s a reduction the composer approved of and, if it doesn’t quite hit the heights of other works he was writing at the time (it’s contemporary with the marvellous Symphony No. 29 in A) then that could well be because he didn’t feel like pushing out the boat for his beastly employer.  It’s certainly not as great a work as the later Linz symphony, but I thought it got a better performance tonight, partly because it sounded more fresh and exciting.  There was a lovely sound at the opening, rich and broad without sounding fat, and the string tone was glorious throughout.  I also loved the delicacy of the slow movement and the bounce of the finale.  The Linz had a lot of the same characteristics, but some of Clemens Schuldt’s shaping of the line struck me as unnecessarily clipped, almost as if trying to cut off a phrase while it still had something to say, though the finale had an admittedly admirable rhythmic whip to it.

 However, maybe I’m saying this because I was still dazzled by the pair of brilliant concertos that had preceded the Linz symphony.  I’ve said before that something really special happens when a concerto soloist comes from the ranks of the orchestra, but getting three such class acts in one concert seems largesse indeed.  Strauss’s Duet-Concertino is a real gift to a chamber orchestra.  A band the size of the SCO is perfectly suited to reveal Strauss’s delicate textures, especially those characteristic harmonies that are so evident in the opening bars, and both Maximiliano Martín and Peter Whelan have already demonstrated just how gifted they are when they played Weber concertos back in 2012.  Having the two of them together allowed them to bounce ideas off one another with what amounted to musical banter.  Sometimes Strauss’s phrases bounced around like a conversation, sometimes it was close to a comical interaction, and I loved the way that the clarinet’s seamless legato seems gradually to tame the grumpy, broken line of the bassoon.

 Even finer, though, was the broad self-confidence of the first horn concerto, played by the SCO’s exceptional principal horn.  Alec Frank-Gemill’s playing seemed to ooze relaxed confidence, attacking Strauss’s tricky lines with rock-solid technique and bell-like clarity that was thrilling to listen to.  The finale, in particular, with its Alpine main theme, had a rollicking excitement to it that was infectious and which seemed to rub off on both audience and orchestra, whose playing was like a warm, friendly handshake as they supported one of their own.  The brightness and assurance of his tone kept reminding me that this concerto was the work of a precociously gifted young man and the whole thing bristled with confidence and certainty.

Simon Thompson

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