Review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra with Jaime Laredo

First published in The Herald on 21 October, 2013

City Halls, Glasgow

Jaime Laredo and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra go back a long way: they made recordings together in the late 1980s and Laredo led the orchestra on early international tours around the US and Hong Kong. Compared with those old recordings, the septuagenarian Bolivian-American violinist has lost a lot of the warm sound and dexterity he once had in spades. For this concert he was billed as “director/violin”, but wasn’t able to do much by way of limber direction while he played (that was mostly left up to the orchestra’s guest leader, Maya Iwabuchi). Yet he still draws beautiful sounds from the orchestra, and their gracious performance of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony made up for glitches during the rest of the concert.

Maybe it was the spirit of old friends reunited, maybe it was the fact that Laredo was joined as soloist by his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, but something had inspired a seriously sentimental whiff to the programme. Romantic tidbits filled the first half: the SCO’s strings shimmered in Dvorak’s early Romance, though Laredo struggled to make the solo part sing, and glowing woodwinds supported Robinson’s burnished tone and broad gestures in Dvorak’s Silent Woods. Husband and wife played with touching complicity in The Muse and the Poet, a ponderous tone-poem by Saint-Saens.

Highlight was Laredo’s sturdy, unsentimental account of Mendelssohn’s Scottish. He steered clear of too much mist and mystery in the slow introduction, and when the main theme picked up it was simple and well-defined. The adagio was noble, intimate; the finale rounded off with a chunky coda. Hardly a revelatory performance of this well-trod symphony, but with such refined orchestral playing it was solidly enjoyable performance.