United Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Strauss, De Falla: Baiba Skride (violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Jaime Martín (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 4.12.2015. (SRT)
Tchaikovsky, Violin Concerto
R Strauss, Don Juan
De Falla, The Three-Cornered Hat, Suites Nos 1 & 2
When you hear Tchaikovsky’s concerto you expect the violin to sing, but I’ve seldom heard it sing so dark a song as it did tonight. Baiba Skride is Latvian, not Russian, but her style of violin playing reminded me of nothing so much as a soulful Russian bass singer, not the soaring Mediterranean feel that you often get with this piece. There was a chocolatey sound to her playing that sounded almost as though she was playing loudly with a mute, though that’s certainly not what she was doing. It made me wonder how much of it was her playing and how much was her instrument, but it made for fascinating listening all the same, plumbing the work’s emotional depths more than many performances, and bringing a syrupy smoothness to the cadenza. That sound made the Canzonetta even more bittersweet than usual, before casting off all restrictions in a finale that she took dangerously but triumphantly fast. Jamie Martín made the orchestral accompaniment exciting and relentlessly upbeat, in contrast to his soloist, with a lovely choir of winds to accompany her in the slow movement.
Martín then gave us two great works that speak of his homeland. Don Juan, for all it matters, was meant to have been Spanish, and Strauss’s tone poem was played with all the sunlight that the Tchaikovsky lacked. The Don’s music was vigorous, glossy and tremendously exciting in the great horn theme, while the love music featured some very classy solos against a lovely dark glow in the lower strings. Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat suites then ended the evening with tremendous style. Martín shaped it so that it was as evocative as a symphonic poem but as rhythmic as a dance score, and it was easy to sense the sensuality of the Miller’s wife or the pretentions of the Corregidor, as well as the coarse swagger of the Miller himself. The final dance felt like it had concentrated in it all the energy of the entire concert, propelling itself along with that uniquely Spanish combination of precision and inelegance as it lolloped triumphantly across the finish line. It was just what the doctor ordered on a dreich November night: earthly cares could disappear for a while, even ones as bleak as the closure of the Forth Bridge!