First published in the Guardian on 8 March, 2015
Franz Schubert began work on his Ninth Symphony in 1825, the year after Beethoven unleashed his own great Ninth on the world. Schubert wasn’t shy to acknowledge the influence — he quotes the Ode to Joy in his last movement — and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra turned to earlier, brusquer Beethoven to set up this performance. Principal conductor Robin Ticciati takes the art of programming seriously; if there’s poise, sweep and astute detail in his conducting, the same tends to be true of the way he puts together a concert programme.
It was the violent, obsessive soundworld of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture that unfolded and resolved, almost, in this blithe Schubert Nine. The potent tension seeded in the overture’s ferocious C-minor opening burst into uproarious bloom in the symphony’s C-major close. The whispered pizzicatos that end Coriolan were chillingly inconclusive: the symphony’s fragile opening picked up where they left off.
Schubert’s Ninth spans about an hour, which Schumann called a ‘heavenly length’. Keeping momentum through the potential doldrums of motivic development is one of the great tests for any conductor. Ticciati applied the same thrust, lucidity and shading as he had in the overture, but in a span this epic I’m not sure it was enough. The darkest corners were left unprobed, the bright, crisp lines didn’t let us sink into the most outlandish tonal landscapes. This was a jovial, invigorating account, but never quite radical. Highlights were the trio, earthy and elegant, and the fearsome drive of the finale.
The buzz and gumption of Magnus Lindberg’s Violin Concerto completed the programme, with Renaud Capuçon as a frenetic, searching soloist. He hurtled around his violin, matching the dogged insistence of the Schubert and the brawn of the Beethoven. The SCO didn’t quite muster the work’s filmic expanses but gave beautifully nimble, lissom support.