Andrew Manze’s Brilliant Musicianship Illuminates Another Interesting SCO Concert

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Stravinsky, Mozart, Stenhammar: Franceso Piemontesi (piano), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Andrew Manze (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 28.2.2019. (SRT)

Andrew Manze © Chris Christodoulou

Stravinsky – Concerto in D

Mozart – Piano Concerto No.19 in F

Stenhammar – Serenade in F

If nothing else, this concert would get full marks for variety.

I have really grown to look forward to Andrew Manze’s annual appearances with the SCO. As well as his brilliant musicianship, he brings a sensitive and careful eye for programming, and it was no doubt his idea to bring Wilhelm Stenhammar’s Serenade for this concert. It is doubtless a piece he got to know during his time in charge of the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, and he told us from the podium that it is a hugely popular piece in Sweden. It’s virtually unknown elsewhere, though. Enjoy it, he said, because ‘it might be the only time you ever hear it!’

In fact, it is a substantial enough work, and very enjoyable in parts. Stenhammar’s first and third movements have a touch of Mendelssohnian fairy music to them, while the frequent harmonic and temporal shifts bear the hallmark of his relationship with Sibelius; and there is rich, throbbing Romanticism to the Notturno (Nocturne) before a finale of quasi-Mahlerian eclecticism, albeit on a much smaller scale. The SCO played it with commitment and a lovely range of colours, and Stenhammar would no doubt be grateful to have a musician of Manze’s calibre spreading the word for him. If it really is the national classical piece of Sweden then the Swedes have a right to feel a little short-changed, though: it’s a little limited, and several times Stenhammar seems to drop some of his ideas just as they are getting interesting.

It is interesting to hear as a one-off, however, and you could hardly imagine a greater contrast with Stravinsky’s wiry Concerto, more a Concerto Grosso than anything else, which seemed to be in both D major and D minor at once, with its lithe textures and agile jumps.

Manze and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra have previously collaborated on Mozart with Francesco Piemontesi, both live and on disc, so they have established form and a good rapport. That really came through in the F major Piano Concerto, which had a light breeze blowing through its opening movement, generating its own energy as it powered forwards. The Allegretto was light and mobile, and led into a light-hearted finale with a lovely sense of movement. I especially enjoyed Piemontesi’s games with tempi and dynamics, bringing to the music a great sense of fun, which isn’t a word I often associate with this concerto. The good news is that they are about to head into the studio to record both this and Mozart’s final piano concerto. Watch this space for the results.

Simon Thompson

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