Impressive playing from the SCO in a Glasgow programme that contained something for everyone

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various: Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Anthony Marwood (violin / direction). Grand Hall, City Halls, Glasgow, 4.11.2022. (MC)

Anthony Marwood © Pia Johnson

Ives – The Unanswered Question (1908)
Alexander Raskatov – Five minutes in the life of WA Mozart (2001)
Haydn – Symphony No.8 in G major ‘Le soir’ (1761)
Bruckner – Adagio from String Quintet in F major (1878/79)
Elgar – Sospiri for string orchestra and harp, Op.70 (1914)
Stravinsky – Three dances from Concert Suite to L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) (1918): Tango, Valse & Ragtime
Weill – Violin Concerto, Op.12 (1924)

Titled ‘From Darkness to Light’ for this concert at City Halls the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was directed by Anthony Marwood from the violin. Marwood has been productive in the recording studio both as a violin soloist with orchestra and chamber group member, notably with the Florestan Trio. This was the first occasion I had encountered him in a live performance.

Marwood selected a wide-ranging programme of seven works from composers of several countries America, Austria, England, Germany and Russia that spans some two hundred and forty years from Haydn to Raskatov. These are works that I wouldn’t normally expect to see coupled together on a programme, but the concert was no worse for that.

Opening the concert was Ives’s The Unanswered Question from 1908 formerly paired with his Central Park in the Dark as a work known as Two Contemplations. This short yet haunting piece was beautifully played with considerable integrity and was all over far too soon. The most recently written piece from 2001 is Alexander Raskatov’s Five minutes in the life of WA Mozart subtitled ‘not a “not-turno”’. In this sweet and appealing miniature, that uses Mozartian motifs in its scoring, everything felt very much tongue in cheek.

From 1761 Haydn’s Symphony No.8 in G major known as Le soir (The evening) is the earliest work on the programme. For this four-movement score Marwood employed some thirty players including a harpsichord and I noticed there were two natural horns. There is much detail and solo contributions to hold the attention such as the prominent part for one of the two basses in the trio of the menuetto. I recall the gentle and lyrical Andante movement so beautifully played while the Presto: Finale subtitled La tempesta (The Storm) shone out with personality.

Next came a work from Bruckner the Adagio movement from his String Quintet in F major. Written in 1878/79 this was a period contemporaneous with his Symphonies Nos. 5 and 6, although it was not premiered until 1885. Prior to seeing the programme details I wondered if Marwood had chosen to play the Adagio in the string orchestra version by Hans Stadlmair but he gave the original string quintet version. Marwood led his chamber players so effectively in the lovely Adagio with the quintet profiting from first class ensemble and the impressive tone conveyed a hymn-like reverence. Following on was another beautiful work Elgar’s Sospiri (Sighs) an Adagio for strings including harp. From 1914 Elgar wrote the score in the tension filled months leading to the start of the First World War. A personal favourite work of mine the players didn’t disappoint with Sospiri providing a heartfelt account that was full of sincerity and a special resonance.

In 1918 Stravinsky wrote L’Histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale) a theatre work scored for dancer, three speaking parts and seven instruments. Based on a Russian folk tale where a soldier with a magic violin exchanges it with the devil for a book that promises to grant wishes.

There is a nine-movement concert suite of the work from which Marwood chose the Three Dances: Tango, Waltz and Ragtime. Marwood led from the violin a modest sized group of bass, woodwind, brass and percussion all reveling in Stravinsky’s rhythms.

For his final work of the evening Marwood selected Kurt Weill’s Violin Concerto. I don’t encounter the concerto too often as Weill’s reputation and legacy is based on his musical theatre works. During his Weimar Germany years, it was his landmark work Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera) in collaboration with Bertolt Brecht that gained him both fame and prosperity. Written earlier in 1924, Weill’s Violin Concerto is unusual for its scoring for string basses, woodwind, brass and percussion. Despite exemplary playing by Marwood and his ensemble the concerto is a work that I find difficult to engage with, although judging by the applause many of the audience clearly didn’t share my view.

Throughout this City Halls concert I was captivated by the impressive playing from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in a programme that contained something for everyone. A masterly performer of the violin Marwood melded his exceptional gift for artistry with an indubitable technique.

Michael Cookson

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