United Kingdom Widmann, Brahms, Beethoven: Christian Tetzlaff (violin), Tanja Tetzlaff (cello), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Robin Ticciati (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 11.5.2017. (SRT)
Widmann – Con brio (2013 version)
Brahms – Double Concerto in A Minor Op.102
Beethoven – Symphony No. 7 Op.92
This was the last concert of the SCO’s main season before a tour and a busy summer of festivals, including Edinburgh, East Neuk and the Proms. It’s also the first time since January since we’ve seen Principal Conductor Robin Ticciati on the podium. As appointments and engagements stack up across Europe, Ticciati is getting busier and busier, and he has less than a year to run with the orchestra now before he stands down. The ovation at the end of the concert was very warm, and I suspect the performers were lapping it up that little bit more in the knowledge that they only have a few more of these to go as a team.
It was Ticciati’s Beethoven Seven the provoked the roar of the crowd, but I found it hard to get quite so excited about it. It was rousing, with fast tempi throughout, and the occasional lapses of string ensemble were forgivable in the heat of the moment, as was the lack of weight in the bass and the slightly top-heavy sound. For me, however, it lacked the exhilaration it needed, mostly because I felt like I knew where the road map was heading. Ticciati’s Beethoven is a fairly well known quantity for Scottish audiences by now, and I enjoyed what I heard; but I also got what I was expecting and the lack of a revelation makes things that little bit more predictable and less exciting.
Conversely, I didn’t know what to expect from the Tetzlaff siblings playing Brahms, and I found the results thrilling. I’ve expressed reservations about Ticciati’s Brahms before, particularly during their Brahms cycle of 2015-16, but here I had no complaints. This was a reading of maturity and architectural cogency, helped, I suspect, by having such a classy pair of soloists as collaborators. The orchestra was of a chamber scale, of course, which meant that the textures and proportions of the sound felt just right, but they played with vibrato and modern technique, giving us the best of both worlds; a carefully scaled performance played with full-blooded Romantic fire. The Tetzlaffs, I suspect, set the agenda for this, with their playing of fiery energy and hot Romanticism. The turbulence of Tanja’s cello playing, in particular, surged with passion, and I liked the way Christian frequently brought his bow down on the strings with a hard edge, adding an extra ounce of drama to the sound. After the craggy first movement, the Andante seemed to flow like molten silver, and the finale had a spark of humour, even of the dance about it. It was brilliant, as was their encore, the finale of Kodaly’s Duo.
Jörg Widmann’s Con brio has grown on me since I first heard it last October. We’re told that this is the Scottish premiere of the 2013 version, but I don’t know the work well enough to have picked up the major differences. What I do know is that, this time around, the opening felt like a more direct engagement with the nineteenth-century world he is trying to critique, and the work as a whole struck me as a lot funnier! That’s partly because, knowing to expect them, the extra-instrumental effects (tongue-clickings and whooshing noises, for example) sounded less bizarre. I could also relax into the many fun techniques he uses to make instruments sound very unlike themselves, such as brass players slapping their mouthpieces, clarinets flickering their keys, or the timpanist doing seemingly anything except striking the skin of his drum! If ever again I hear such a range of percussion sounds coming from one man within ten minutes, then I’ll be both surprised and impressed.