United Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2014 (3) – Brahms, Schumann, Webern, Beethoven: Lars Vogt (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Robin Ticciati (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 10.8.2014 (SRT)
Brahms: Tragic Overture
Schumann: Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish”
Webern: Langsamer Satz
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor”
The lean, sinewy textures of Brahms’ Tragic Overture provided, against my expectations, the most satisfying element of tonight’s concert. Played on a band of the SCO’s size, Brahms orchestral works tend to lose some of their weight but gain some transparency and clarity. There was no loss of scale tonight, however, and if you’d been listening without seeing then you could have been forgiven for thinking you were listening to a full scale symphony orchestra. Ticciati used big gestures to conjure big sounds, especially in those opening chords which sounded, more than usually, like Beethovenian hammer-blows. The open textures were still there, though, allowing the sometimes baleful brass to penetrate the web of strings like a warning call.
After such an exciting opening, the glorious theme that begins Schumann’s Rhenish symphony sounded a little understated. True, some conductors start so big that there is nowhere for the music to grow into, and Ticciati certainly wasn’t going to make that mistake, but that opening theme really needs more highlighting. I complained about the same thing when the SCO played it back in November, which makes me think that this must be a conscious interpretation. If so, it doesn’t work for me, but there was much else that did. The swell of the second movement was very satisfying, with brilliant sound from the cellos and bassoons, and the slow movement was all solemn grandeur. Furthermore, the last movement, surely Schumann’s most satisfying symphonic finale, bristled with energy and some great spotlit colour from the horns.
It was the strings that shone in Webern’s Langsamer Satz, a beautifully rich vein of late-Romanticism that we don’t expect from this composer, lovingly shaped by Ticciati and underpinned by some outstanding tone from the cellos and basses. Beethoven’s Emperor concerto, as if to make up for lost time, bristled with assertiveness, but then it’s hard not to when the soloist is Lars Vogt! Vogt is a born showman, and he wasn’t above a little showing off tonight, such as the occasional cheeky glance into the audience, or turning to the orchestra as if to clinch a phrase. However, he remains an outstanding musician, and he uses the sledgehammer approach only very occasionally. You could frequently see him listening to the orchestra, and he responded with delicacy of touch in all manner of surprising places, not just in the dreamy stillness of the slow movement but also in the big moments of the outer movements too. He’s a favourite in Scotland, not just in the Edinburgh Festival, and his rapport with the orchestra made it easy to see why.
The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 31st August in venues across the city. For full details click here.