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Stravinsky, Haydn, Weber and Ravel: Robin Williams (oboe), Peter Whelan (bassoon), Ruth Crouch (violin), David Watkin (cello), Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Christian Zacharias (conductor and piano), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 30.4.2009 (SRT)

Stravinsky: Danses Concertantes
Haydn: Sinfonia Concertante in B flat
Weber: Konzertstück op.79
Ravel: Le Tombeau de Couperin (orchestral version)

This concert was a study of light and shade.  The well chosen programme ranged from Haydn to Stravinsky, taking in Romanticism and Impressionism en route.  Guiding the journey was the steady, always dependable hand of Christian Zacharias.  The steady hand was immediately evidence in the Stravinsky: the Danses Concertantes is a hotch-potch of different styles and a kaleidoscope of moods. Stravinsky cheekily gave some of the movements ballet titles (Pas d’action, Pas de deux), even though it wasn’t written for the purpose of a dance.  Each movement was admirably controlled by the conductor who also managed the transitions between movements in a subtle yet defined way.  The orchestral playing (only 24 musicians for this piece) was top notch with the many solo contributions coming across well, perhaps most especially from the woodwinds.

Zacharias himself took to the piano for Weber’s Konzertstück, an unashamedly Romantic piece depicting the return of a crusading knight to his faithful wife.  The mood is glorious heart-on-sleeve stuff, and the piano’s fistfuls of notes heighten the heroic mood as the knight returns from the battlefield.  The piece was new to me but it’s instantly attractive due to the changing moods (the wife’s melancholy through to the knight’s triumphal return) and its undiluted melodic gift. 

Le tombeau de Couperin is a piece that really works better in its original version for piano solo, but this evening there was a light touch of delicacy that really worked.  The swirling prelude carried gossamer textures that made the orchestra feel like a collection of soloists, and the Forlane felt more overtly comical than it does in the hands of a pianist alone.  The final Rigaudon was perhaps a little too in-your-face, but the Menuet rose to quite lovely heights of poignancy.

The greatest piece of the evening, however, was the Haydn.  In this anniversary year we are learning to re-evaluate many of Haydn’s great works.  This one has always been in the shadow of the London Symphonies (it was probably commissioned by the same man), but it carries all the structure and humour of its more famous co-works, such as the moment at the start of the finale when the orchestra seems to be taking up the main theme, but the violinist’s entry slows up proceedings enormously, introducing what is in effect an operatic recitative with the violinist as the voice.  The four soloists were all drawn from the ranks of the orchestra and this gave the proceedings a delicious feeling of collegiality and shared fun.  The soloists were always catching one another’s eye and their colleagues in the orchestra were clearly very proud of them.  The music-making itself was of the highest order.  Ruth Crouch’s violin perhaps stood out more than the others, but that’s only because Haydn gave her more obvious music: this was very much a team effort. 

It is to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s credit that such cooperation and teamwork is part and parcel of what they do.  It is a terrible shame that they, like their RSNO colleagues, have fallen foul of the seemingly endless restoration of the Usher Hall, leading to the cancellation of their season finale, Haydn’s Seasons.  Their new season has just been released, though, and there is a lot to get excited about. 

The SCO have one more concert in the
Edinburgh season before going on tour: for details of this and of their new season go to  For a preview of the new SCO season see here

Simon Thompson

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