Live Reviews

Review: SCO, Ticciati, Tetzlaff

First published in the Guardian on 19 December, 2014

Schumann’s Violin Concerto wasn’t premiered until 1937, when it was hijacked for Nazi propaganda eight decades after it was written. If the piece still has an awkward place in the repertory it’s easy enough to understand why: composed in his final years, this is Schumann at his most skittish, baffling and heartbreaking. Dark, urgent melodies go off in tangents that don’t behave how they should. The theme of the Adagio refuses to be tethered; the finale has a sad, stoic swagger and culminates in a desperate spasm of virtuosity.

Continue reading

Review: SCO, Josep Pons

First published in The Herald on 15 December, 2014

Manuel de Falla left Spain in 1907 and spent several years living in Paris, soaking up the music of the time. The colours of Debussy and Ravel and the inflections of early jazz are there in his later orchestral works, but he never lost his love for the traditional culture of his home country and his music is full of the heat and earthiness of folk tunes from around Spain. Think the pioneering ethnomusicologist-composers like Vaughan Williams or Bartok, flavoured with flamenco and gypsy rhythms.

Continue reading

Review: The Sixteen’s A Chirstmas Carol

First published in The Herald on 10 December, 2014

It’s hard to envisage a classier carol concert than The Sixteen – always a superlative bunch of singers – conducted by their founder Harry Christophers in a programme of Christmas music ranging from the 16th century to 2011. The Usher Hall might not be the cosiest venue but the choir filled the space like it was a cathedral, letting crystalline phrases drift without hurry and mustering enough umph in lower voices to give the sound a proper grounding. It was all fairly well-behaved – the ‘gloria’ in Angels from the Realms of Glory more graceful than exuberant – but the blend and polish of the voices was hard to fault.

Continue reading

Review: BBCSSO, Brabbins, Liebeck

First published in The Herald on 10 December, 2014

This was violinist Jack Liebeck’s first concert appearance with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra but he has already recorded with the orchestra: a disc of Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy and the obscure Third Violin Concerto conducted by Martyn Brabbins was released on Hyperion earlier this year, part of the label’s Romantic Violin Concertos series. Later this week the same team are back in the studio to record two more Bruch rarities – the Second Violin Concerto and the Konzertstück Opus 84. Both were on the programme here.

Continue reading

Review: BBCSSO/Matthias Pintscher

First published in the Guardian on 5 December, 2014

As a composer, Matthias Pintscher’s music is meticulous, economical and cerebral. As a conductor his approach is similar. The results can be striking when he hones an entire orchestra into one incisive, pristine gesture, but in this all-French programme with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra he kept the ardent flux of the music too much at arm’s length. Pintscher tends to think about his music in visual terms; here his gaze felt clinical and uninvolved.

Continue reading

Review: RSNO, Peter Oundjian, Steven Osborne

First published in the Guardian on 26 November, 2014

Now in his third season as music director, Peter Oundjian seems to have settled into a genial, uninteresting rapport with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. He goes in for glossy gestures and easy-to-digest interpretations. Beginnings, endings and big tunes are always emphatic. There’s headline impact.

Continue reading

Review: SCO + Elisabeth Leonskaja

First published in the Guardian on 17 November, 2014

Two Brahms symphonies in one concert is common enough; most orchestras can muster the requisite stamina and musical focus. But the two piano concertos? These are mighty, muscular giants of the romantic repertoire, composed a quarter of a century apart and feats of pianistic brawn. Few soloists are made of strong enough stuff to pull off both in one sitting. Elisabeth Leonskaja’s performance with conductor Okko Kamu and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was not without problems and at times made me wonder whether audience endurance is another argument for keeping the works apart. But the 68-year-old Russian has a fundamental ability to scale the epic with grit and plainspoken poetry. What she lacked in brio she made up for in sturdy grace.

Continue reading

Review: BBCSSO/Donald Runnicles birthday concert

First published in the Guardian on 14 November, 2014

Packed hall, telly cameras, Beethoven’s Ninth; the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra mustered due pomp for the 60th birthday of its chief conductor Donald Runnicles, filmed for posterity and the orchestra’s website. All the cheerful on-stage chat (Runnicles described his relationship with the BBCSSO blossoming from love affair to marriage: “I can see their grimaces as I speak”) didn’t detract from the task at hand. This was a bold and luminous account of Beethoven’s great paean of humanity, full of a collective elation that cannot be faked.

Continue reading

Review: Hebrides Ensemble’s Dead Elvis

First published in the Guardian on 13 November, 2014

Centrepiece of this America-themed programme was Michael Daugherty’s 1993 gimmick concerto Dead Elvis, in which a bassoonist dresses up in a King suit and gyrates while playing brash notes and fancy licks. “If you want to understand America and all its riddles, sooner or later you will have to deal with (Dead) Elvis,” Daugherty writes in his notes to the piece. Back when it was premiered the cynical sales trick was probably provocative; now the eight minutes of stock jazz tropes and ballsy post-minimalism seem tired, more show than substance. Granted, no bassoonist could have been more persuasive than the lithe, lush-toned Peter Whelan. Emerging from a puff of smoke in costume, quiff and shades, he made the instrument squeal and swoon – and all this from a noted baroque specialist.

Continue reading

Review: Emersons + Leonskaja

First published in The Herald on 11 November, 2014

The cumulative experience on stage was vast: Elisabeth Leonskaja has been giving piano recitals since the 1950s, while the Emersons have been at the forefront of American concert life since the late 1970s. This pairing should have easily filled City Halls but on Sunday the balcony was empty and the stalls had scores of folded seats. Was it scheduling? Basic marketing? Either way, the atmosphere was dishearteningly flat for such esteemed musicians.

Continue reading