United Kingdom Haydn, Beethoven, Mozart: Benjamin Marquise Gilmore (violin), Philip Higham (cello), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano / conductor). Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 27.2.2020. (SRT)
Haydn – Symphony No.52
Beethoven – Triple Concerto
Mozart – Symphony No.38 ‘Prague’
Roughly once a season, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra plays a concerto featuring one of their principals as the soloist. They have become unmissable events. I know I say this every time, but it becomes no less true for repetition: they do this sort of thing better than any other orchestra I have heard. It helps, no doubt, that they are a chamber orchestra, their smaller numbers making them intrinsically more keyed into listening to one another. However, the sense of musical camaraderie and of sharing the honours is a lovely thing to witness, and how much more so when you have not one, but three soloists.
Beethoven’s Triple Concerto perhaps works best when its solo parts are shared out like this; finer still when it’s directed from the keyboard by someone as skilled as Kristian Bezuidenhout. Playing a modern piano rather than a nineteenth century fortepiano, Bezuidenhout tailored his sound to ensure that he didn’t overwhelm his companions. What was most impressive, however, was the way he had thought through the orchestral sound over which he presided. Strings played with little vibrato, but there was rich depth to the sound regardless, and the first movement bustled along with a contained sense of splendour. The finale was every bit as busy, but had a touch of jollity with tutti moments that sounded extremely pleased with themselves. The chugging wind triplets carried a hint of humour, a swagger that was completely different to the quiet majesty of the first movement, and the final pages went off with a delightful scamper.
The orchestra played without vibrato, but soloists Benjamin Marquise Gilmore and Philip Higham played with lashings of it! That contrast worked really well, nowhere more so than in the hushed intensity of the slow movement, where Higham’s cello sounded almost pained in the intensity of its expression, contrasting the freer lightness of Gilmore’s violin line. I have always been baffled by the Triple Concerto’s low standing among Beethoven’s works: it has always been one of my favourites, and performances as considered as this should show its doubters what they are missing.
The two symphonies that Bezuidenhout chose to surround it were huge contrasts. Haydn’s C minor Symphony No.52 comes straight out of his ‘Sturm und Drang’ period, and the SCO’s string sound, both agile and exciting, pointed this up brilliantly, before turning in a much softer focused tone for the slow movement. The rapid finale with its prowling bass line, sounded like a predator in search of its prey, spiced up with the baleful sounds of the natural horn, played here with bell-like clarity.
Mozart’s Prague Symphony, on the other hand, brimmed over with confidence, the first movement’s D major tutti sections sounding bright and invigorating. Rising from his keyboard this time, Bezuidenhout again demonstrated how well he can shape the orchestral sound, balancing the strings, winds and brass perfectly, while shaping the big paragraphs with pleasing attention to detail. The second movement carried the lilt of a waltz in places, and in the quickfire finale every semiquaver was brilliantly articulated. This whole evening was a completely exhilarating listen.