Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

“Let’s go party in Paris”. Scottish Chamber Orchestra principal flautist Andre Cebrian might easily have uttered such an invitation – he more or less did – in his spoken introduction to Poulenc’s saucy 1932 Sextet, a work for wind quintet and piano that opens with a champagne pop and enjoys itself to the last.
It was the opening work in the latest of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s digital chamber music series.

The other was the substantial Nonet by Louise Farrenc, a 19th century Parisian composer, known as “the female Beethoven”, and notable not just for the fact she was a woman who stamped her forcible mark in a 19th century man’s world, but because her music was especially good.

Poulenc’s “pop of the cork” had the impact it should, an immediate explosion of musical fizz to set in motion the raucous comedy, wicked satire, anarchic sentiment and rollercoaster energy that forever distinguishes his bittersweet style. 

These SCO players lapped it up, capturing the acerbic inevitability of the opening Allegro vivace with its fruity melodies underpinned by vamped grotesquerie; filling the easeful comfort of the central Andantino with hints of exotic colour; and conquering the spicy duplicity of the Finale – where solo virtuosity vies with collegiate solidarity – through to its simmering conclusion.

Written around 100 years previously, Farrenc’s Nonet is more sobering, but no less intriguing. Symphonic in all but name, and scored for a mini-orchestra texture – wind quintet in partnership with violin, viola, cello and double bass – this was a performance that respected its shapely, stylish refinement.

The warmth that radiated from its gentle, meaningful slow introduction established a mood of composure that informed the ensuing graceful Allegro and subsequent movements. Farrenc’s writing flows effortlessly but with calculated brilliance – as the only female professor at the Paris Conservatoire she famously campaigned for equal pay and got it – which the ensemble embraced, minuscule slippages aside, in a deliciously tasteful, engaging performance.
Ken Walton

Image: André Cebrián credit Nacho Morán