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Wagner, Schreker, Fauré: Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Neal Davies (bass-baritone), Robin Ticciati (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 31.3.2011 (SRT)

Siegfried Idyll

Schreker: Chamber Symphony

Fauré: Requiem

Robin Ticciati's last concert with the SCO this season showcased all he is good at, namely his careful eye for a well turned phrase and the ability to shade an orchestral texture with all the best tools at his disposal. I have seldom heard Wagner's birthday gift for Cosima sound so beautiful, with outstanding wind cameos and string tone to die for. Ticciati moulded each phrase with a craftsman's skill and the whole piece carried a sense of forward movement without losing the sense of something unfolding gently from within. Similarly Fauré's evergreen Requiem shimmered and glowed in his hands. The cellos and (especially) the violas, so key to the sound world of this work, played gloriously, colouring the middle ground of the sound with such character that, when the violins eventually enter in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, the effect is all the more striking. The combined forces of the orchestra and chorus sounded great at the climaxes - such as the Hosanna and the Dies Irae - and there was a genuine shudder to the end of the Libera Me, though the moments that should most take flight, such as the Lux aeterna, I found strangely earthbound. The SCO Chorus did a fine job, even if they seemed to flag a little towards the end, and the clarity of the textures helped each line to come through clearly, though this wasn't always to the benefit of the tenor section.

If Franz Schreker isn't a name you instantly know then it's to no fault of his: he was hugely popular in the Germany of the Weimar Republic, but his Jewish roots meant that he fell foul of the National Socialists and it is only recently that more of his music has been widely played. He said of himself "I am a sound-artist... and have no melody whatsoever". He's being modest - listening to his music I picked up more than the odd taste of Richard Strauss - but his statement is a testament to his gift for textural painting which really made his Chamber Symphony interesting. The forces are very exposed (two of most string sections and single winds with percussion) and could make things sound exposed, but he achieves some tremendous effects with great economy of means, be it the spectral opening, the gentle, scherzo-like central section or the magical, even visionary close. Players of the SCO's calibre give this music absolute clarity of texture and Ticciati shaped the unfolding of the single-movement structure with a sense of surety and vision so that the listener never felt lost.

Tonight was another example of the SCO's gift for intelligent programming and of the variety they put before their audiences. The same can be seen throughout their new season which was unveiled yesterday. For full details go to

Simon Thompson

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