United Kingdom ‘The Paris Concert’: Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Laurence Cummings (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 9.3.2017. (SRT)
Rameau – Suite from Les Boréades
Mozart – Symphony No.31 in D, ‘Paris’
J. C. Bach – Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for flute, two clarinets, two horns and bassoon
Haydn – Symphony No.92 in G ‘Oxford’
Some parts of this concert wore their “Paris-ness” more comfortably than others, but put together they all made for a pretty fascinating snapshot of the trends in western music as the Baroque era gave way to the Classical. Laurence Cummings is an excellent choice of tour guide, too. He knows his way around this repertoire like few others in the UK at the moment, and he managed to find depth in the slow movement of Haydn’s “Oxford” symphony (it was written for a Paris aristocrat) that you, frankly, don’t tend to find in Haydn very often, with the deep, rich string theme and unsettled, percussive central section.
He was also a good escort into the very niche world of JC Bach’s Sinfonia Concertante for winds, which was beautifully played by an SCO sextet that were so embedded within the orchestra that they stood at the back of the stage rather than the front. JCB’s writing for the string orchestra is a little generic, but his music for the winds is a delight, full of gurgling charm and quasi-Mozartian wit. It frequently feels like a concerto for flute with some pals attached, and Alison Mitchell, the SCO’s principal flute, led with a beautifully Gallic sense of the Galant in the slow movement, but when she stepped aside for the Trio section of the finale, the other five stepped up with a charming quintet that sounded as though it might have been lifted out of the Gran Partita. Next to this, the actual Mozart on the programme was played with extrovert brilliance, but I was left with an unshakable sensation that this symphony is the mature Mozart at his most vulgar, with his tricks and tactics that were overtly designed to wow his Parisian audience, but don’t really chime with the sensitive, humane composer that we know and love.
To hear how you should really deploy your tricks, we got a delightful run through Rameau’s Boréades suite, something that is far from being the SCO’s meat-and-potatoes, but which they clearly had a whale of a time playing, relishing the effects of the unusual percussion and winds. Indeed, it was the unique mix of the winds and strings that generated the concert’s greatest moments, the skirl of the clarinets and flutes sounding magnificent, but also acting as a refreshing surprise: this just isn’t what you expect from the French Baroque! Next to the joys flowing from the music, Cummings’ interpolated narrations, delivered to a fixed spot on the ceiling at the back of the hall, just weren’t necessary.