Vigour and Zing: Egarr and the SCO bring New Life to Beethoven and Mozart

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven, Mozart: Rowan Pierce (soprano), Daniela Lehner (mezzo), James Gilchrist (tenor), Andrew Foster-Williams (bass-bar), SCO Chorus, Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Richard Egarr (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 23.2.2017. (SRT)

Beethoven – Overture, Coriolan

Mozart – Symphony No. 36 “Linz”; Overture, The Magic Flute; Mass in C “Coronation”, K.317

I’ve said before – no doubt to the point of dullness – that Richard Egarr is my favourite of the SCO’s regular guest artists, and lots of his trademark flashes were on display tonight: his vivacity and collegiate method of music-making; his energetic handling of Coriolan that made it feel like a narrative drama rather than an orchestral showpiece; and the occasional cheeky drag on a wind phrase in the Magic Flute Overture that added a little touch of spice into the texture.

What struck me most in this evening’s performance, however, was the playing that he managed to draw out of his collaborators. Not since the days of Mackerras have I heard the Linz symphony played with such vigour and zing, the first movement sounding truly spiritoso as its quick-fire phrases were enunciated with razor-sharp clarity by the SCO strings. For a small group of players, it was undeniably a big sound, enhanced by some special effects from the timps and trumpets who were, nevertheless, used sympathetically and often very carefully shaded. But whilst big, it was also light on its feet, tripping through the genteel Menuet and the firecracker finale as though barely touching the bar-lines. The first movement was had the style and flair of a Lamborghini, while the Andante was as sleek and smooth as a prize Persian cat, redolent with sumptuous legato where the first movement had been sharp-edged precision.

This feast of C major stepped up a gear with a really quite wonderful performance of the Coronation Mass, a reading that bristled with positivity and organic brightness.  The SCO chorus, building on their recent run of great form, totally bought into Egarr’s open-hearted vision, many of its members wide-eyed with the excitement of singing the piece, which had a wonderfully positive impact on the sound, making the choral texture bright, affirmative and open. The orchestra, too, sounded marvellous throughout, with marvellous richness to the multi-layered textures shining through clearly. It was also a very classy quartet to have assembled for a work that almost always requires its soloists to sing collaboratively, but they sang throughout with gorgeous blend and unanimity of purpose, nowhere finer than in the brilliant transformation of Et incarnatus est, moving quickly but intoxicatingly from the brilliance of the Credo into the mysterious contemplation of the incarnation. Rowan Pierce’s rich, beauteous Agnus Dei saw out the work with the same rich musicality that had characterised the whole evening.

Simon Thompson

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