MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.


Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny
  • Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb



Beethoven and Brahms: Sergey Khatchatryan (violin), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Olari Elts (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 12.11.2009 (SRT)

Overture, Fidelio,Violin Concerto

Brahms: Symphony No. 1


The SCO’s regular Edinburgh venue is the intimate space of the Queen’s Hall, but they’ve moved a handful of this season’s most important or crowd-pleasing concerts into the freshly refurbished Usher Hall. You can’t get much more crowd-pleasing than this evening’s programme: what a shame, then, that the hall wasn’t better filled. There were plenty of empty seats in the stalls and gallery and the bars felt very quiet at the interval. Anyone who missed out on this concert also missed out on one of the most satisfying musical evenings that Edinburgh has seen in months. Olari Elts, the SCO’s Principal Guest Conductor, is a great musician who always has interesting things to say, such as his extremes of tempi which cast new light on the Fidelio overture. The opening burst of tutti sat next to a very drawn out reading of the subsequent horn/wind phrase before a pacy and exciting main body to the overture.

He also chose his speeds very carefully – and appropriately – for the Brahms. This is the second Brahms 1 that Edinburgh has been blessed with in just over a month, but while the
RSNO’s performance with Kristjan Järvi emphasised the breadth and scale of the piece, the SCO’s pointed up the clarity and detail of the work. Brahms once said that the orchestra at Mannheim, which was about the size of the SCO, was best suited to performing his symphonies. Musicologists disagree over whether Brahms was primarily referring to their size or to the character of their playing. Either way, a chamber orchestra of this size bring transparency to this work that you often lose with a larger scale symphony orchestra: the fanfares at the end of the first movement’s exposition have never sounded clearer to me, as with the gentle timpani strokes towards the end of the second movement. Elts’ opening was a little underplayed, but this made the ensuing allegro all the more sharp with its savage string attack. The slow movement broadened out remarkably after the action of the first, while the third movement has rarely sounded so genial. For all its clarity there was no lack of scale in the finale: the final gallop was tremendously exciting, as was the massive weight of the trombone chorale. The movement, and the work, was crowned with a really fantastic horn solo which made the scalp prickle in a way I’ve never experienced.

And speaking of great experiences, Sergey Khatchatryan’s playing in the Beethoven concerto was easily the finest I’ve ever had the joy of hearing in this work. This young virtuoso is something really special, and I knew as I was listening to it that this performance would be one of the highlights of my musical year. He has an uncanny ability to shed new light on this most familiar of works His entry in the first movement was remarkably gentle, almost questioning as he tentatively assayed the opening runs. It’s astonishing to watch him as he plays his instrument: he caresses every phrase as if he is in love with the music and is besotted with the violin itself. His technical accomplishment goes without saying, as his cadenzas showed, but it’s the subtle suggestiveness of the playing that made me sit up and listen as if I was hearing this work for the very first time. He brought scale to the first movement and excitement to the rondo, but the highlight was the almost unbelievable tenderness that he brought to the counter-theme of the Larghetto which seemed to hang in suspended animation as he spun out a gorgeous line of sound. The orchestra responded with playing of architectural strength, not least from the choir of winds that is so important in the first movement. The Bach solo movement that Khatchatryan played as an encore opened up an infinity of melancholy in less than four minutes, crowning a magnificent performance. Unforgettable.

Simon Thompson


Back to Top                                                    Cumulative Index Page