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Haydn, Stravinsky, Fauré/Matthews: Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Sally Matthews (soprano), Robin Ticciati (conductor), Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh, 10.2.2011 (SRT)


Haydn: Scena di Berenice

Stravinsky: Apollon musagète

Fauré: Melodies: Seven songs orchestrated by Colin Matthews (SCO Commission, World Premiere)

Haydn: Symphony No. 96 “Miracle”


Stravinsky’s Chamber Ballets are one of the cornerstones of this year’s SCO season. In a series of three concerts the orchestra and Principal Conductor, Robin Ticciati, present a ballet in the same concert as a Haydn symphony. If the juxtaposition seems strange at first then it makes more sense when you remember that the three ballet (Jeu de Cartes, Apollon and Orpheus) are written squarely in the composer’s neoclassical style and so the comparison works very well indeed, one work enlightening the other. Moving from the classical austerity of Handel’s Berenice into the sparse textures of Apollon felt like listening to two halves of a conversation. They may well be speaking 150 years apart but their thrust is remarkably similar. In fact much of Apollon copies classical forms directly, a French style Ouverture for the opening, and Apollo’s own variation sounding positively fugal in places. The textures for the Stravinsky were more sparse than for the Haydn, exposing the inner clarity and highlighting the sprung rhythms that are so integral to what remains, after all, a ballet score.

Poise and measure were also key to Ticciati’s reading of Haydn’s Miracle Symphony, outstanding in the swing and balance of its rhythms, particularly in the slow movement. I’ve said before that Ticciati’s gift in this music is to unexpectedly highlight colours in the orchestral texture that the listener may not have noticed before, and so it was on many occasions tonight, especially the horn calls in the first movement development which had barely registered with me before tonight. Furthermore the string tone was entirely different – as well as it should be – to anything else in the programme that night, less vibrato without losing colour.

The Scena di Berenice which opened the evening benefited from Sally Matthew’s dramatic soprano, a big voice which filled the hall with ease. The dramatic focus for the recitatives never flagged, Ticciati colouring the strings wonderfully such as on the phrase “eccolo ucciso.” Matthews’ Berenice was an austere classical heroine, cast in marble and suffering without restraint. She altered the tone of her voice hugely for the Fauré songs, delicacy and subtlety where previously there had been rage. These orchestrations, an SCO Commission, were undertaken by Colin Matthews, one of the best qualified UK composers for such a project. The opening song, Fleur jetée, didn’t work at all for me, sounding heavy and overbearing, but the others were more successful. Nocturne was much more alluring, the instruments evoking the various colour and shades of evening very successfully, especially the sparingly used winds, and there was lovely delicacy in Clair de lune. The final song, Berceaux, made a fine ending, the orchestra coming into its own during the haunting postlude.


Simon Thompson

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