United Kingdom Chopin, Mendelssohn: Ingrid Fliter (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Jun Märkl (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 23.04.2015 (SRT)
Chopin: Nocturne, Op. 32 No. 2 (orch. Stravinsky)
Piano Concerto No. 1
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 “Italian”
After their extremely successful recording of the Chopin concertos, it was all but inevitable that Ingrid Fliter and Jun Märkl would join the SCO to play them live, but what a happy inevitability it turned out to be. In the flesh as much as on disc, Fliter proved to be a marvellously poetic force at the keyboard. She played the concerto’s lyrical high points with a gorgeous ear for the cantabile line, and I loved the way she made each theme sing in a different way each time it appeared. This was best of all in the gorgeous main melody of the slow movement, played with beautiful simplicity when it first appeared, but then delicately ornamented when it returned, and slotted perfectly into the violins’ take on it. Similarly, the flowing second theme of the first movement made a delicate contrast to the weighty seriousness of the opening, and I loved the searching, meandering quality that she brought to the winsome passage that opened the development, which then built to a thunderous set of runs as the recapitulation launched.
There was plenty of light and shade, however, and the trumpets and trombones lent proper weight to the orchestral sound, not to mention some gorgeous horn playing and a characterful bassoon solo in the slow movement. There was also a lovely lilt to the finale, with every episode beautifully characterful, and the strings especially light on their feet.
It was quite a contrast to the opening piece, Stravinsky’s orchestration of one of the Nocturnes, which Diaghilev used in La Sylphide. In it, Stravinsky did a very good job of sounding very unlike himself, and of making Chopin sound very like Tchaikovsky, with his use of silky violins and flutes for the melody. It was beautifully played, though, with enough panache to stop it sounding merely twee, and you could easily imagine it doubling as a waltz in a ballet.
Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony then seemed to burst off the page in the second half, the opening snap sounding more like the pop of a champagne cork than the crack of a starting pistol, an indication of how Märkl would successfully balance the lightness and the seriousness of this work. The violins gleamed with Mediterranean sunshine in the opening melody and the whole first movement moved forward with a smile on its face, with a busy, precise fugato section that became increasingly exciting. The Minuet, too, was delicate and fleet-footed, with a surprisingly sombre minor key episode in the central section. By contrast, however, the second movement had an acidic flavour to it, and Märkl finished with a fiery Saltarello that was nevertheless very precisely coloured, with plenty of telling details and no mere broad brush strokes. All this musical sunshine on what was the warmest day of the year so far! Dare we hope that summer is on its way?…