Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
It requires a sharp musical intelligence to take on the three-concert residency of such a distinctive musician as Pekka Kuusisto, stay faithful to the spirit of the project, but also add ingredients of one’s own. Not only has violinist Hugo Ticciati achieved that balance this month, he has met the challenge of responding to the plight of the people of Ukraine from the concert platform with compassion and imagination in his additions to the programmes.
When the concert already contains Barber’s Adagio for Strings, however, that last task is unnecessary. Deployed in many previous sombre contexts and a trope of screen soundtrack heart-string pulling, the achievement of the SCO, directed by Ticciati, was to make it work once again without seeming mawkish. That was entirely down to the quality of the ensemble playing. When, for example, the four cellos assumed the top line, it was the sound of a single instrument that we heard.
Ticciati’s substitution in this programme was the Third Symphony of Philip Glass, a work from 1995 that both fulfils and contradicts its categorising title. Composed for strings alone, and just 19 players here, unlike many a classical symphony its outer movements are short, while the second and third are more extended. Eastern influence permeates the work, particularly in the raga-like openings of the second and fourth sections, but the latter quickly sounds as if it would be at home soundtracking a cinema Western.
It is the third movement that sounds most characteristic of the composer, a limited “sample” of musical material repeated with small variations and Ticciati’s solo violin entering to soar above – music that is both “minimalist” and lyrical. Crucially though, the players brought an organic humanity to the performance of the work from its very first bars, so that it never sounded mechanical but was movingly meditative – the word violist Brian Shiele had used in his introductory remarks.
For the other two works, Ticciati was on a conductor’s podium for the first time in this short series. Contemporaneous with the Barber, Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks – played here by ten strings and five winds – and Copland’s Appalachian Spring Suite both display rhythmic originality that pre-figure the Glass. That made it especially interesting to hear the Stravinsky straight after the Symphony, with Ticciati as eloquent an indicator of mood as of beat.
With the hall’s small platform filled with musicians for the only occasion of the night, the opening of the Copland struck a hopeful note after the Barber, and the work’s fantastic orchestration has never sounded clearer in every detail than it did here.
The concert is repeated at Glasgow City Halls this evening.