Tag Archives: Chloe van Soeterstede

SCO / van Soeterstede

City Halls, Glasgow

The old cliché about the odd numbered Beethoven symphonies out-lasting the evens never really worked with the Pastoral, and a remarkable run of performances of No 4 in pre-pandemic times made a very eloquent case for it as well.

Symphony No 8’s relative brevity to those on either side of it mean it is sometimes especially belittled, including by the composer himself, but also makes it an attractive programming option. Its compact arc can create the temptation for conductors to keep the orchestra on a tight leash until the boisterous finale, but French conductor Chloe van Soeterstede was having none of that.

Ideal for the smaller forces of a chamber orchestra, the Eighth is brisk from start to finish and van Soeterstede made sure that pace – while never slacking – was very accurately measured. There is much musical jest and japery in the work, in unexpected notes and combinations of instruments, staccato chords and offbeat accents, and the conductor missed none of the gags. She also found an element of darkness in the Minuet’s septet of solo cello, horns, pizzicato basses, clarinet and bassoon that set up the pell-mell finish perfectly.

It was the culmination of a fine programme that had begun with the Symphony No 1 of neglected 19th century German composer Emilie Mayer. Some of Mayer’s songs featured in Golda Schulz’s recital of lost works by women composers at last year’s Edinburgh Festival, and here was evidence that her orchestral works – she wrote a further seven symphonies – are also ripe for rediscovery.

The models of her male predecessors in her homeland are much in evidence early on in the symphony, but she then goes very much her own way, with some starling changes of pace and direction later on. As with the Beethoven, this was a score very well suited to an ensemble with 24 strings.

In between was the star attraction of mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill, singing the six songs of Les nuits d’ete that might have been written for her, had Hector Berlioz not in fact orchestrated them for his second wife, thus creating the first example of such a cycle.

It does have a lovely shape to it as well, beautifully communicated by Cargill, from the optimistic opening Villanelle, through the darkness of bereavement and loss, to the relatively upbeat, if uncertain, closer, L’ile inconnue. Scotland’s international singing star was on absolutely magnificent form, her superb instrument of burnished tone across the whole of its range, but always all about engaging the attention of the listener on a one-to-one basis.

There was plenty of instructive example here for the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland students in attendance. Their intensive study with Cargill this coming week will culminate in a Cumnock Tryst recital in the Ayrshire town’s Trinity Church on Saturday April 28.

Keith Bruce

Portrait of Chloe van Soeterstede by Olivia da Costa

BBC SSO / van Soeterstede / Currie

City Halls, Glasgow

For all its negative effects, the pandemic has accelerated the careers of some musicians, and London-based Frenchwoman Chloe van Soeterstede, a product of the Royal Northern College of Music conducting course, may be one of those.

This was her second visit to the BBC Scottish in six months, after partnering cellist Steven Isserlis in a memorable programme last December. Here she was working with Colin Currie in a busy week for the Glasgow-based percussionist, on the UK premiere of the percussion concerto written for him by Dutch composer Joey Roukens.

Currie has championed many new orchestral works for his instrument(s) but this one has been a particular enthusiasm, and it is a real surprise that it has not had more international exposure. It is a full decade since he debuted it, and three years to the day since he gave an acclaimed run of three performances in Holland.

That delay in a British performance is more surprising because it a very comprehensible, and substantial, piece, in four distinct movements, each given a separate quirky title by the composer. The third of those, a syncopated “scherzo” called Protean Grooves seems to have attained something of an individual existence as a stand-alone, perhaps because it is shows the influence of guru of Dutch composition Louis Andriessen, but it works even better in the context of the whole work.

The orchestration it uses, before an extended cadenza for the soloist, is no larger than that of the substantial opening movement, Lines and Colors, which progresses through cymbals and strings through tuned percussion and winds to toms and blocks with the brass. This is big stuff, as percussion concertos need to be, but the wistful second movement, I remember this place, is a succession of gentle duets with solo instruments from the orchestra. Roukens’s tunes are slippery, but they are there, and the combination of all his skills is deployed in the finale (amusingly entitled It’s over, my friend), from the swelling marimba and clarinet opening to its querulous ending. By that point the line between the tuned and untuned instruments at Currie’s disposal was very blurred indeed, which may be exactly the intention.

If Soeterstede again proved her quality on a work that was new to her, the familiar music in the rest of the concert showed her to be thoughtful on that too. The opening of Mozart’s Don Giovanni overture was an ominous pre-echo of the Beethoven symphony that followed, and the contrast between those bars and the more “Mozartian” music that follows has rarely been as clear. The Second Symphony of Beethoven, often taken to be a minor one of the nine, was a precursor to the “Eroica” Third in her hands. Her pacing of the first movement could be thought heavy-handed, but there was no mistaking her reading of it as the anguish of a composer facing up to his deafness for the first time.

BBC SSO / van Soeterstede / Isserlis

City Halls, Glasgow

Viola player-turned-conductor Chloe van Soeterstede has a forward schedule that many musicians may currently envy, with concerts in her native France, Germany and England all upcoming early in 2021. This packed hour-and-a-quarter programme for BBC Radio 3’s Afternoon performance strand suggests that it is built on an appetite for hard work to tight deadlines.

Only the Schumann Cello Concerto, for which the orchestra was joined by the silver-maned Steven Isserlis, appears in the repertoire she lists on her website. It was bracketed by two delicious pieces of orchestration by women composers, with a less-often-played Mozart symphony, No 34 in C, rounding things off.

Isserlis gave as masterful a performance of the Schumann as you might expect. His stated intention to be a conduit for the composer to tell his own story may have sounded like the sort of thing all soloists say, but in this case it was demonstrably true from the opening anguished bars. There was no bathetic self-indulgence in the finale either, a movement in which the soloist’s communication with the conductor and her strict tempo was very evident.

Van Soeterstede is both rigorous and lucid in her beat, disciplines essential for the brief Reckless by Sally Beamish, which is punchy in the way of the animation scores of Carl Stalling and Raymond Scott, but with terrific orchestration. The scoring was also what distinguished the opening Concert Overture by Elfrida Andree. This terrific work had its second performance in 1998, well over a century after its premiere, and it alone suggests that the Swedish composer, who was chief organist in Gothenburg for most of her life, is another woman whose work is ripe for rediscovery. Beautiful writing for the winds had the finest realisation by the SSO’s principals, and a lovely silky string sound was provided for van Soeterstede’s crisp direction.

Mozart’s last Salzburg symphony before he escaped to the bright lights of Vienna is an unfinished work of three movements, but it stands happily in the catalogue in that form. The central Andante is the young composer at his most elegantly pared-back, but the fast outer movements were the stars of the trio here. There was an immediate chamber orchestra energy to the first one, and the finale, built around the orchestra’s pair of oboes in close harmony, was most definitely the sound of a young man on the move.

The young woman on the podium is surely going places as well.

Keith Bruce