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Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Special 40th Anniversary Edition
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Siegfried Idyll [19:09]
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Robin Ticciati
rec. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 2-3 September 2013
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
The Tempest: Suite No, 2, Op. 109 [15:40]
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Joseph Swensen
rec. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 24 March 2003
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 Jupiter [38:27]
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. City Halls, Glasgow, 5-6 August 2007
LINN CKD540 [73:17]

This disc is a special birthday treat to commemorate, in 2014, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. I’m lucky enough to be a regular at their concerts, and it’s a privilege to be living in such close proximity to what is one of the greatest chamber orchestras in Europe, renowned for their precision, clarity, intimacy and sense of community. This anniversary edition is an inspired idea, uniting recordings made by three of the conductors who have been most closely associated with them.
 
Robin Ticciati is their incumbent music director and I admire hugely his work with the SCO, though I’m not always enamoured of the sound he gets out of the strings, which at times comes across as rather pinched. I admit this somewhat detracted from my enjoyment of his Siegfried Idyll — the only “new” recording on this CD: Swensen’s and Mackerras’ are taken from prior releases — which has a fairly small sound and is low on luxury. Some will like that: they will enjoy the stripped down quality of the sound, which is a world away from what you normally expect to hear from Wagner, and the transparency of the sound — vibrato seems to have been used only very sparingly, if at all — certainly brings gains of laying the music open in a way that allows the winds to come through with more clarity and equality. That said, I miss the ability to wallow in the sound that comes from other, less historically informed performances. Intimacy doesn’t mean you have to be without luxury, as anyone listening to Solti’s unique VPO account can confirm. I certainly won’t be casting this version away, however, as there’s plenty to appreciate, too.
 
Swensen’s Tempest music brilliantly sums up the quality of his relationship with the SCO. The Chorus of the Winds, for example, marries the majesty of the tutti chords with the gentle intimacy of the harp passage. His string sound is rich and unafraid, but he uses it with delectable delicacy in, say, the Intermezzo or the Dance of the Nymphs. He manages to make Prospero’s theme sound like Vaughan Williams, while the Naiads episode is full of good natured triumph.
 
Unlike the other two, Sir Charles Mackerras was never principal conductor of the SCO, but as their Conductor Laureate he was a regular fixture in Scotland and his death in 2010 deprived the orchestra of one of their greatest collaborators. He showed this again and again on the concert stage (see here for a review of their final concert) and his many recordings with the orchestra include seven Mozart operas and two brilliant sets of the symphonies. The virtues of this recording of the Jupiter have been trumpeted elsewhere on this site, so all I will say is that listening to it again reminded me of just how brilliant it is and made me sad all over again that Mackerras is no longer with us.
 
I don’t know how long this disc is going to be around for, so if you want it then don’t waste time. Well done. Happy Birthday to the SCO and here’s to the next forty years.
 
Simon Thompson