SCO/RCS Winds: Side by Side

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Close your eyes, and the reality that half the musicians in Friday’s RCS lunchtime concert were students and half were seasoned professionals from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Wind Soloists would have passed you by. This was part of the SCO’s Side-by Side initiative with Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students, which has been on the go since 2016 and gives those young pros-in-the-making a first-hand feel for life in the musical fast lane.

Just as there was no compromise on standards, the programme itself smacked of challenge and curiosity. It opened with the wacky world of Darius Milhaud, the fifth of his six pocket-size Chamber Symphonies. To call it short and sweet is but a half truth. Yes, it says all it needs to in about six minutes, but hardly anything it says is sweet. The ensemble acknowledged that in a taut and acerbic performance, encompassing all that is sinister, snappy and sardonic about the composer’s hard-edged style.

Ruth Gipps’ Seascapes effected an immediate sea change. Born in Bexhill-on-Sea in 1921, it’s safe to assume she knew her subject well. The opening, with its liquid imagery however, suggested she’d dashed across the English Channel to consult Debussy. Yet within seconds, a flowering of individual thought emerged, rich in imagery and the resourceful use of instrumental texture. It allowed individuals to shine – the velvety cor anglais for instance, and a myriad of colourful pairings – and gave credence to the programme note’s claim that Gipps deserves to be better known that she is.

Then back to France for the neo-classical effervescence of Jean Françaix’s Nine Character Pieces. They were performed as a continuous sequence, which in itself highlighted the distinguishing charm of each of the succinct movements – a plaintive Amoroso, a rhythmically unnerving Subito vivo, and much more en route to a cat-and-mouse Finale that raced exuberantly to its quasi-operatic conclusion.

The programme ended with Dvorak’s popular Serenade Op 44, in which the winds were infiltrated by an SCO string supplement of cello (Donald Gillan) and double bass (Nikita Naumov). Not everything was smooth sailing – the slow movement took time to find its natural composure – but as the most abundantly-scored of Friday’s works there was gravity in the delivery to match the substantiveness of the score. Not that this cheery Serenade eschews Dvorak’s signature folkish verve, which this energised composite ensemble addressed with no end of spirited enjoyment. 

Ken Walton

This programme is repeated at the Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh on Sun 19 Nov. Full information at