SCO Luxurious Sound in Brahms Contrasts with Vogt’s Flamboyant Schumann

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schumann & Brahms: Lars Vogt (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Robin Ticciati (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 15.10.2015 (SRT)

Schumann: Manfred Overture
Piano Concerto
Brahms: Symphony No. 2


The SCO’s Brahms season continues this week with Symphony No. 2 which was, if anything, even more successful than part one.  This symphony featured in Ticciati’s first ever concert with the SCO as Principal Conductor.  It’s clearly close to his heart and, whether because it has featured importantly in their musical collaboration or not, this performance was a clearly a meeting of minds.  Ticciati’s tempi, while a little inconsistent in the first movement, remain on the fast side, but the overall direction of travel is firmly forwards, and the sound was a mite more luxurious than it was for Symphony No. 1.  

The strings used vibrato but sparingly, adding a touch of lushness that stood out from the acidic lament of No. 1’s opening (a sparseness which, interestingly, was still detectable in the Manfred Overture), and the lower brass had a deep glow to them that offset the sound beautifully, particularly in those thoughtful, slightly unsettled episodes in the first two movements.  The pert choir of winds sounded fantastic in the Allegretto, and when all the elements came together for the euphoric finale (con spirito indeed!) the effect was electrifying.  It caused me to reflect on just how far this team have come in the last five years: there is trust, affection and mutual respect there, such as could rival pretty much any other British ensemble.

They could teach Lars Vogt a thing or two.  His bull-in-a-china-shop approach to Schumann’s Piano Concerto was utterly unbecoming to the piece, right from the way he stampeded down the keyboard in the opening tumble through to his incessant pushing forward which led to frequent inaccuracies and muddying of phrases.  His flamboyant mannerisms have become a more recurrent trait over the last few years, as though he were trying to draw attention to himself at the expense of all else, and it was almost as though he were daring the orchestra to outdo him, even stamping his feet as though unable to help himself.  As an approach, it’s utterly unsuitable for Schumann’s piece, which has perhaps the most collaborative spirit of any concerto since Mozart.  At least the orchestral sound remained lovely – a beautifully dreamy atmosphere in the first movement’s central section, or the cellos in the Intermezzo, to serve as only two examples – as if to show Vogt how it should be done.

Simon Thompson

Leave a Comment