First published in The Herald on 8 July, 2014
The tenth East Neuk Festival closed, as is becoming tradition, with a Scottish Chamber Orchestra concert in Cambo’s big potato barn. For most of the year the space houses a sizeable veg crop; during the festival it is cleared for orchestral concerts and turns out to be a bit of an acoustic gem. Certainly it suits the SCO just fine: on Sunday their strings sounded glowing, their winds warm and there was a real bloom to the cellos and basses that gave the whole ensemble a sunny, broad sort of blush.
The concert had the feel of being comfortably sated after a good meal, conversation more sleepy than scintillating. Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings was carried by the tenor Allan Clayton, whose delivery was vivid and astute and whose voice is perfect for Britten â€“ those full, sweet upper notes, that ability to enter on chilly, unwavering lines. Alec Frank-Gemmill was as technically impressive as ever as horn soloist, though not his evocative best.
The conductor was Christian Zacharias, who the previous evening had given a devastating account of Schubert’s late Sonata in B-flat D960. He is a musician of profound insight but he’s more communicative as pianist than conductor â€“ he didn’t muster the same subtle gravitas from the orchestra as he did at the keyboard. He opened with excerpts from Schubert’s Rosamunde. This is incidental music, not written to be centre stage and deadly tedious in parts, especially with tempos as slow as they were here. Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony closed the concert, Zacharias taking great care to delineate every voice and let every phrase breathe. The result was beautiful and ponderous.