SCO / Wigglesworth
City Halls, Glasgow
The concise and considered introductory remarks of conductor Mark Wigglesworth to his programme with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, finding common experience in the life and work of the three composers featured, were a model for his thoughtful approach to directing the music.
The highlight of that programme, notwithstanding the inclusion of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, was the Cello Concerto No 2 of Shostakovich, with soloist Laura van der Heijden, who has a particular affinity with Russian music.
It may be a very personal late work of the composer, but the hesitant opening notes on the cello and initial contribution by the low strings now sound very redolent of the mid-1960s Cold War period of the work’s composition. Van der Heijden was at all times clearly aware that there is little about the work that is a virtuoso showcase – that opening bar is one of the few moments where there is not something else going on alongside the soloist, her cadenzas not excepted.
The integration of the top line with the orchestration takes many forms, and many individuals in the SCO were called upon to make specific contributions, including Rhiannon Carmichael’s contrabassoon, a very fine horn pairing of Chris Gough and Andy Saunders, and a range of ear-catching percussion playing, culminating in some top-notch tambourine.
The soloist has the final word, but, as in so much of Shostakovich, it is a very ambiguous last utterance.
The opening Simple Symphony by a youthful Benjamin Britten was altogether more straightforward in intent, but was no less demanding of the SCO strings, who found a terrific range of dynamics in the Playful Pizzicato second movement and a beautifully coherent ensemble sound in the finale.
This orchestra is now expert at a sort of hybrid performance that combines modern instruments with baroque ingredients, like natural horns and trumpets, and that was key to this account of Beethoven’s masterwork. Wigglesworth, conducting from memory, was master of all the details of the score, particularly in the slow movement, which revealed colours and shifts of tempo that seemed completely fresh and new – so much so that the ripple of applause at its end seemed far from inappropriate. The Scherzo was as fine, but the last movement just failed to build on all that capital in realising the cumulative effect of its repetitions in the way it had seemed destined to achieve.