SCO/ Schumann/Brahms

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

It seems entirely fitting that a chamber orchestra should find it so natural to lay on a chamber music series as its digital answer to the COVID dilemma that has laid waste this year’s planned orchestral seasons. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra hasn’t disappointed with the release last Thursday (8 October) of the first such evening concert recorded in its home at the Queen’s Hall. In truth, it required a warm-up number to garner the level of composure that would ensure the evening’s main work – Brahms’ serious-minded String Sextet No 2, Op 36 – got the warm-hearted engagement expected of it. In that respect, Schumann’s Marchenerzahlungen (fairytales) for clarinet, viola and piano, the interweaving intricacies critical in addressing its expressive character, took time to establish an easeful interaction.

It was in the final two movements that William Stafford (clarinet), Felix Tanner (viola) and Michael Bawtree (piano) opened the doors to a genuinely relaxed musical empathy and the charms immediately revealed themselves. Schumann’s music breathed, any four-squareness was forgotten. Bawtree’s rippling pianism in the penultimate Ruhiges Tempo inspired persuasive conversations to surface, serving as a powerful emotional springboard to the determined rhythmic thrust of the finale.

Both works were chosen and warmly introduced by SCO violinist Rachel Smith as “dear to her heart”, and she, herself, formed part of the cohesive string line-up for the Brahms and a performance that tastefully harnessed its mixed emotions. There were many magical moments: the opening gurgle of oscillating violas as a scene-setter for the later glowing cello theme that emerges like an autumnal sun rise; the rustic catharsis that inflames the scherzo; the teasing, embryonic chromaticism that  introduces the questioning Adagio; or the sudden passionate outflow of optimism that sets the Finale apart. 

While we may only be getting occasional sightings of the full SCO in the foreseeable months, it’s a welcoming thought that its component parts are in action and in such good shape.

(View this concert online at
Ken Walton