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Haydn, Szymanowski, Stravinsky: Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Renaud Capuçon (violin), Robin Ticciati (conductor), Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, 10.3.2011 (SRT)


Haydn: Symphony No. 94 "Surprise"

Szymanowski: Violin Concerto No. 2

Stravinsky: Orpheus


First, a confession: I am no fan of Szymanowski. Despite the best efforts of his most eloquent contemporary advocates, including Rattle and Gergiev, his hyper-Romantic, perfumed world is a step too far for me. Every time I've heard his music I've come away impressed but unmoved and ultimately I think the cloying gloop of the sound texture is just too much for me.

Having got that off my chest, I should also say that this evening's concert contained the finest Szymanowski performance I've heard to date. At first glance this composer's lush, wallowing textures are a world away from the core repertoire you would associate with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but in many ways this was their secret weapon: the transparent textures and willingness to listen, which you get at its very best in small orchestras, opened up this unique sound world in a way that cut down the calories and shone daylight into murky spaces. I kept hearing things in this concerto that I had never picked up on before, like the skill of the wind writing and the delicacy of the piano part. Riding the wave was Renaud Capuçon, surely among the first rank of violinists today, though I was surprised to see him reading the music as he played. Capuçon has the ability to make a single note soar or sob, so refined is his articulation and musicianship. His violin sang with intensity during the earlier, more lyrical section of the concerto, while the more folk-influenced second half sparkled and glinted in its more jerky rhythm and feel. His linking cadenza was dazzling, seeming at times as though one violin wasn't enough to contain all he had to say through it.

Transparency was also the best thing about Stravinsky's Orpheus. Tonight was the last instalment in the orchestra's series of Stravinsky's neoclassical ballets, and Orpheus is surely the most austere of the featured three, written as it was in the aftermath of the devastation of the Second World War. Again, the clarity of the textures allowed Stravinsky's prinked, precise orchestration to come to the fore in almost microscopic detail. Each individual dance was a perfect study in mood and character, from the violence of the Furies to the eloquence of Orpheus himself. I especially loved the hypnotic opening as the harp picked out its theme over a bed of strings, returning at the very end of the work to lend it a fulfilling sense of symmetry.

As with the previous instalments in this series, Stravinsky was paired with Haydn to point up the neoclassical elements in the former, though Ticciati's reading tended to bring out what was new and original about Haydn's score, particularly through the tempi. The first movement's second subject bounced and swung with an entirely different rhythm to the first subject, like a rustic dance in contrast to its stately cousin. Delicate pointing of the rhythm also distinguished the very end of the symphony, though I wasn't so convinced with Ticciati's distortion of the timing in the minor key third variation of the slow movement; to me it sounded wilful and unnecessary. Still, no-one could deny that vigour and life breathed through every phrase and the orchestra's virtuoso performance, both individually and together, was never in doubt.


Simon Thompson


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