Review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra with Alexander Janiczek and Llyr Williams

First published in The Herald on 14 October, 2013

SCO/Janiczek
City Halls, Glasgow

There was a smallish turnout for this Friday-night concert, surprising given the easy appeal of the programme. Perhaps that the soloist, pianist Llyr Williams, had performed a weekend of concerts in Glasgow only a fortnight ago was a factor, or that we’ll be hearing a lot of him anyway as the city’s new artist-in-resident. Either way, the audience energy seemed to reflect back onto stage: it was one of the most subdued Scottish Chamber Orchestra performances I’ve heard.

Much of that was down to Williams, whose playing was markedly undemonstrative. He delivered the first phrase of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A K488 as if there was all the time in the world, so laid-back it was nearly supine, and his ultra-smooth legatos begged for a tad more punctuation. The concerto’s slow movement was breathtaking, though, with its sad, sweet lines passing beautifully between piano and winds.

In Janacek’s Concertino – a spry chamber piece from 1925 – Williams softened the jaggy opening with heavy pedalling and played down the jocular twists. If the first movement depicted a grumpy hedgehog (Janacek’s intention) it was a solemn beast indeed. Clarinettist Maximiliano Martin expertly navigated the second movement’s fidgety squirrel, but again Williams’s touch seemed tacitern. Even the fourth movement’s Mussorgskian climax lacked the breadth it needed. Williams isn’t always such a reticent communicator.

Alexander Janiczek directed from the violin, sharing his usual spirit of camaraderie and close listening. Dvorak’s Notturno began shyly, silvery strands in the upper strings urged on by lively cellos and basses. Mozart’s Prague Symphony had gracious, unforced exuberance. The SCO has sounded brighter, brisker, springier, but this was a golden autumnal sound to suit the season.