SCO / Whelan

City Halls, Glasgow

When the main man pulls out, you’re snookered. It was, of course, nobody’s fault that violinist Colin Scobie had to call off his solo appearance in last week’s SCO programme, but that’s not the main man being referred to. 

As a consequence of Scobie’s unfortunate withdrawal, the Violin Concerto No 3 by the hitherto unsung 19th century Edinburgh-based, Polish-Lithuanian emigre Felix Yaniewicz had to be pulled – a bit of a blow when the whole programme was designed around the composer’s symbolic and significant inclusion. 

The original intention was a selection of music representative of Yaniewicz’s time and influence as a key mover and shaker in post-Enlightenment Edinburgh, where he was organiser of the illustrious Edinburgh Musical Society concerts, and co-founder in 1815 of the short-lived Edinburgh Musical Festival, a notable precursor to the annual August jamboree the city enjoys today.

With the main orchestral works remaining in place, and the last-minute services of Irish mezzo soprano Tara Erraught secured to sing a single song by Yaniewicz contextualised alongside others by Tommaso Giordani, Mozart and JC Bach, much of that intention was maintained. We were reliving something of the presentational style and content that 19th century Edinburgh concert-goers would have experienced.

How that might have appealed to a Glasgow audience rather spoke for itself. There was a pitiful turnout, but those who did make the effort witnessed something that was daintily charming in parts, thrillingly virtuosic in others, though when it came to the A-list composers, true class proved its worth.

At the helm was former SCO principal bassoon, Peter Whelan, now making significant headway internationally as a conductor, especially in earlier repertoire. He made an immediate impression in the opening overture from Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the incessant, chirping piccolo and Janissary-style percussion glittering like exotic musical bling. 

Erraught’s first set was initially disappointing, a rather hesitant and inconsistent Caro Mio Ben by Giordani followed by a more settled performance – for all the music itself is routinely crafted – of Yaniewicz’s Go Youth Belov’d. These are intimate songs, a quality Erraught strived hard to sustain, but she seemed infinitely more at ease in Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate. Its dazzling, extrovert acrobatics found Erraught in her natural, opulent comfort zone. 

Returning in the second half for Giordani’s Queen Mary’s Lamentation and JC Bach’s classy arrangement of the traditional Scots song, The Broom of Cowdenknowes, Erraught found something of the composure that had escaped her initial performances. The latter song, in particular, had a melting appeal that earned an emotive sigh from an appreciative audience.

Whelan, meantime, upped the temperature in a couple of orchestral curiosities of the time: the flamboyant Overture in C (essentially a miniature symphony) by Thomas Erskine, the 6th Earl of Kellie, a Fifer known as much for his drinking prowess as his carefree adoption of the musical principles of the Mannheim School, vividly demonstrated in this hearty performance; and Mozart’s modernising arrangement of Handel’s Overture to Alexander’s Feast, lovingly shaped by Whelan and the orchestra.

The concert ended with Haydn’s “Military” Symphony, its bullish eccentricities integrated tastefully within a bright, zestful, at times deliciously poetic interpretation. By which point, any lingering disappointment over the programme changes were resolutely dismissed.

Ken Walton