Live Reviews

Review: Wozzeck

First published in the Guardian on 24 October, 2014

There was a poignancy to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s Wozzeck before it even began. This performance came the day after Donald Runnicles announced he will be standing down as the orchestra’s chief conductor in 2016, a post in which he has done great things. No other company would present Alban Berg’s formidably complex masterpiece in Scotland these days. With a mediocre La Cenerentola currently playing up the road at the Theatre Royal, there’s fat chance from Scottish Opera.

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Review: La Cenerentola

First published in the Guardian on 16 October, 2014

Rossini’s 1817 opera is basically a comedy; there’s an indubitable daftness to the characters, a gleeful frivolity to much of the music. Yet it’s also a socially-conscious retelling of the Cinderella tale. The title character is lifted out of hardship not by any flick of a fairy-godmother’s wand but by her own kindness – it’s the simple humanity of being charitable to a beggar that earns her a ticket to the ball.

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Review: SCO ’14-15 season opener

First published in the Guardian on 13 October, 2014

Symphonic Mahler isn’t exactly home territory for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra: this is a band that made its name playing elegant, vivacious classicism, surely worlds apart from furrowed-browed late romanticism. Or is it? Since the arrival of Robin Ticciati as principal conductor the SCO has been treading new ground without ever losing sight of its starting point. This performance of Mahler’s Fourth had traces of other recent projects: the acute detail and vivid colours of the orchestra’s Berlioz recordings, the grand sweep and expressive depth of its Schumann symphony cycle. Yet it was vintage SCO, too, with the orchestra’s heritage etched into every poised phrase, every uncluttered tutti.

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Review: The Cumnock Tryst, opening night

First published in The Herald on 6 October, 2014

This was the opening concert of James MacMillan’s brand new festival, The Cumnock Tryst. Besuited and beaming, the composer greeted his home audience at the door and gave his welcome address from the pulpit. St John’s was the church where he was baptised (as were his parents and grandparents) and where he played the organ as a teenager. “It all began here,” he said. “The Cumnock Tryst is my way of giving something back.”

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Review: Donald Runnicles/BBCSSO season opener

First published in the Guardian on 26 September, 2014

There’s a mini Shostakovich strand to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s new season, with performances of the Fifth and Fifteenth symphonies coming up in the next few months. The opening concert was a brawny all-Russian affair that culminated in a gripping account of the Tenth Symphony. The collective focus, drive and dynamism of the playing only confirmed what has been clear for some time: that under its chief conductor Donald Runnicles, this orchestra really is outstanding.

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Lammermuir Festival review: Acis and Galatea

First published in The Herald on 23 September, 2014

Don’t let anyone tell you that the narrative of Acis and Galatea is too vapid for decent drama, nor that an opera in concert performance can’t be properly entertaining. What little plot there is to Handel’s 1718 pastoral mini-opera involves a nymph, a shepherd and an evil monster, all lifted from book eight of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Usually a performance is worth sitting through for is its gorgeous music alone: this concise little two-acter contains some of Handel’s most irresistible tunes.

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Lammermuir Festival review: Francois Leleux and the Hebrides Ensemble

First published in The Herald on 22 September, 2014

The terrific French oboist Francois Leleux was artist in residence at this year’s Lammermuir Festival, and he used the opportunity to explore repertoire from Bach to Berio. He is a fearless, flawless player (during this recital he breezily turned pages with one hand while playing with the other). His sound is plush and enormous. It would be a treat to hear him in just about any music.

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Lammermuir Festival review: Bartosz Woroch

First published in The Herald on 22 September, 2014

All violinists have to confront Bach at some point or other: the composer’s six partitas and sonatas are the bedrock of the instrument’s solo repertoire and the benchmark for generations of great players. Polish violinist Bartosz Woroch, born in 1984, devised his late-night Lammermuir Festival recital around the first of the sonatas: the dark G-minor, with its searching Adagio and fitful Presto finale. Around it he programmed two 20th century works, both also in G-minor, both directly inspired by Bach’s sonata.

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Lammermuir Festival review: Steven Osborne

First published in The Herald on 22 September, 2014

After all the tensions of past days and weeks, what a balsam this was. Olivier Messiaen’s monumental Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jesus is a two-and-a-half-hour outpouring of ardour, hope and kaleidoscopic imagination. Written in occupied Paris in 1944 for the woman who later became his second wife, it is the composer’s best-known piano work – and yet few pianists can fully encompass its vast architecture, intense colours and astounding expressive range.

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Lammermuir Festival review: Christine Brewer with the BBCSSO

First published in the Guardian on 21 September, 2014

Emotions have been running fraught in Scotland whichever way you look at it, and the need for a collective unfurling is palpable. This Lammermuir Festival concert of fervent works by Wagner, Strauss and Elgar performed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – an ensemble whose post-referendum future has been hotly debated – was never going to feel like business as usual. And considering the BBC’s contested neutrality through the referendum, a quip from conductor Martyn Brabbins (who introduced an encore from Elgar’s Serenade for Strings by saying that we could now have “sweet dreams of a happy future”) wasn’t hugely useful.

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