United Kingdom Mahler, Suckling, Brahms: Mark Stone (baritone), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Nicholas Collon (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 28.02.2015 (SRT)
Mahler arr. Britten: What the Wild Flowers Tell Me
Brahms: Serenade No. 1
Nicholas Collon has been making waves in London with his Aurora Orchestra, and his work with the SCO tonight pointed up his excellent attention to detail, picking out elements of a score and making them sing. I liked the intense concentration he brought to Britten’s arrangement of What the Wild Flowers Tell Me, the second movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony. It doesn’t actually sound very different to the version for full orchestra, especially in the close acoustic of the Queen’s Hall, but that’s because it’s the most delicate, solo-inflected movement of the original symphony, anyway. However, I liked the way Collon moved steadily and in a focused manner from section to section of a movement that can sound episodic in some hands.
The same was true for his interpretation of Martin Suckling’s song cycle Candlebird. It sets five poems by Don Paterson, and Suckling sets each one like an intensely worked miniature, full of exquisitely detailed technique and precise tone-painting. Wind, for example, is characterised by a ceaselessly moving instrumental line that mimics the suggestive breeze of the poem, while the nerve-jangling music for Motive fitted with the troubling psychology of the text, sounding almost like the soundtrack for a horror film. If there is little by way of melody or arching structure then the piece probably benefits in immediacy from its compartmentalisation and, daringly, he chooses to set some of the most lyrical lines for a speaking voice. Mark Stone put his beautiful baritone at the full service of both text and music, giving of himself with full commitment, and the orchestra of soloists rose to the challenge brilliantly, too.
It’s only a shame there weren’t more people in the hall to hear it. Three cheers to the orchestra for programming it and getting it out there, but not even Brahms’ first serenade could draw more people through the door. I can’t understand why: it’s a wonderful work and it got a superb performance tonight. The tone was set perfectly at the outset with a clear, confident horn solo that seemed to establish a brightness of sound and mood that lasted through the whole piece. The orchestral playing was beautifully exuberant throughout, revelling in a sound that had a beautiful bloom to it, if occasionally a little much for the confined acoustic. The end of the first movement, in particular, was full of grandeur and a sense of enjoying itself, while the dark, spindly world of the Scherzo wasn’t a million miles away from that of the second piano concerto. The long-breathed Adagio was particularly beautiful, with gorgeous string tone, unified winds and a sensational horn solo, and the last two movements bristled with good humour as well as energetic gusto.