A Delightful Program of Bach, Schumann, Haydn with the Scottish CO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach, Schumann, Haydn: Javier Perianes (piano/director), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Benjamin Marquise Gilmore (leader/director), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 19.10.2017. (SRT)

BachBrandenburg Concerto No.1

Schumann – Piano Concerto

Haydn – Symphony No.101 “Clock”

This concert’s two big names were high profile casualties before it even began. Both conductor Robin Ticciati and pianist Igor Levitt had to withdraw due to ill health, which left the orchestra’s relatively new leader to step into the breach instead.

The musical quality of the evening, however, was a testament to how successful he was. The Haydn, in particular, sounded so fresh, alive and carefree that you’d have thought they’d planned it that way all along. OK: this is a work they’ve played a lot (and recorded) over the last few years; but, even accounting for that, this was a performance that sounded freshly minted and, in several places, very carefully crafted indeed. The string figurations of the Menuet, for example, were delicately shaded in a way that would have been difficult with a conductor, let alone without, and the finale contained lots of little flecks of colour that were very impressive. Altogether, the symphony’s architectural breadth cohered very impressively – the second movement gave the basses a role that made it feel like it was built from the bottom up, for example – while ensuring that Haydn’s trademark smile and wink were always close to the surface, and oozing a breezy confidence that exemplifies this orchestra’s playing at its best.

Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos are, by their very nature, the apogee of collegiality, so the collective working method worked here too. What was most interesting, however, was the modern approach to the sound, which was bigger and more glitzy than in either the Haydn or Schumann (and was the only work in the concert that used modern brass). It worked, though, mainly because each section was allowed its moment in the sun without fuss or undue spotlighting. The horns, for example, made the most of their opportunities for mischief in the opening movement, while the long, clear oboe line of the second movement had a beautiful cantabile quality, even if the violin solo sounded a little thin. There was a lovely bounce to the third movement, and the winds really distinguished themselves in the Trio interludes of the finale, sounding courtly and refined while also a little impish.

The orchestra’s management scored a coup securing someone of the profile of Javier Perianes as a replacement soloist, and he, too, made the most of the symbiotic flow between the keyboard and the orchestra. The major key moments of the first movement were especially lovely, as piano and clarinet seemed to sing to one another in the second subject, and the dreamy interlude at the centre of that movement worked like a charm. Perianes’ approach to the cadenza was a little bit too look-at-me to fit in with the character of the rest of the piece, but the ebullience of the finale suited him very well, with a joyful conclusion that drew as much praise from the orchestral players as it did from the audience.

Simon Thompson

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