Amicus Orchestra / Larsen-Maguire

RSNO Centre, Glasgow

After appearing as a member of the New Antonine Brass at Drygate in Glasgow four days earlier (see VoxCarnyx review), Scottish Opera Orchestra horn Lauren Reeve-Rawlings was also soloist-to-the-rescue for Sunday’s concert by the Amicus Orchestra after RSNO Principal Christopher Gough tested positive for Covid.

For a non-professional outfit like this one – some musicians now in non-playing roles in Scottish music, many players acquainted through involvement in the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland in their younger days – last-minute changes of repertoire are not an option, so Reeve-Rawlings stepping up to play a comparative rarity like Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto No 1 really did save the day.

There is plenty conversation between the soloist and sections of the orchestra in the work, and conductor Catherine Larsen-Maguire ensured that their last-minute introduction to one another was never an issue. Articulate and fluid, Reeve-Rawlings brought a poised and relaxed approach to her role.

The involvement of the conductor with this orchestra in recent years has audibly raised its game. That was obvious both in the programme, culminating in Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, and the choice of venue. The sparkling acoustic of this “new” auditorium offers no hiding places – everyone has to be at the top of their game.

The quality of the listening on stage was clear as the programme unfolded. At the beginning of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture there was some wayward intonation in the lower strings, but that had vanished by the slow movement of the Mahler, when it might have been more of a problem.

Quality performances in the wind section were apparent in the Beethoven and across the whole concert, and the orchestra’s first horn James Goodenough richly deserved his solo bow for his playing in the symphony.

Soprano Catriona Hewitson, a Scottish Opera Emerging Artist soon to be seen as Tytania in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was giving her debut performance of Das himmlische Leben in the work’s final movement, but smart money would bet on it being the first of many. Of all the composer’s use of the songs of the Das Knaben Wunderhorn collection, this is probably the audience favourite, and it was easy to hear how it will surely become a calling-card for the Edinburgh singer.

If Mahler is a bold choice for an amateur orchestra, the transparency of the composer’s intentions also make it a fruitful one for a relationship that is clearly working as well as that of Larsen-Maguire with Amicus. This was a concert of which they can all be justly proud.

Keith Bruce

Portrait of Catriona Hewitson by Julie Howden