Tag Archives: Schumann

SCO / Schuldt

SCO / Schuldt

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Getting the best out of Schumann is not as easy as one might imagine. There’s something about his orchestral music in particular that tells of an ardent and instinctive creative mind working hard to express the fullness of its fruits, but where an overabundance of his own self-criticism looms menacingly, threatening to suffocate its natural flow. Get the right conductor, and the threats dissolve. Clement Schuldt is one such exponent, something he proved beyond doubt in an SCO programme that began and ended with Schumann.

It was in the final work, the Symphony No 3 known as the Rhenish, that the distinctive character of Schuldt’s approach was most forcibly illustrated. He is a gestural conductor, who paints vivid pictures with his hands and which an orchestra as responsive as the SCO latches onto with stimulating results. 

This was by no means a pristine run-of-the-mill Rhenish, in that a certain riskiness gave this performance ample biting edge and spontaneous thrills. Dubiety of pulse in the opening bars instilled an unsettlingly mystifying ambiguity, resolving quickly to assert the extremes of pomposity and brooding melancholy that frame the first movement’s stormy polemic. 

The moderately-paced Scherzo was both weighty and fluid; the third movement meaty and mellifluous; the final two moments sombre and vivacious respectively. Informing all of this was a richly-flavoured SCO – its bold winds, punchy brass and brazen strings emphasised in the immediacy of the Queen’s Hall acoustics.

Compare that to the Scottish premiere of Julian Anderson’s Cello Concerto “Litanies” which preceded it, its shimmery impermanence a million miles from the gravitational solidity of the Schumann. Performed superbly by Alban Gerhardt, its dedicatee, Anderson’s originality sat to the fore, lacy textures bearing an almost ephemeral appeal and exhilaration, Gerhardt fully absorbed in the music’s translucent charm, sympathetic to the ingenuity of orchestral flavourings punching the air around him. 

The work which opening the concert – Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale – presented the composer in uncommonly high spirits, reflected by Schuldt’s vibrant, cheery realisation. It was a performance that danced on air, oozed theatricality and languished in heart-felt lyricism. Yet it resisted any temptation for anodyne complacency, Schuldt’s vigorous precision keeping it fresh and dynamic at every turn.

Ken Walton

SCO / Swensen

Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Swensen

Perth Concert Hall

If it was a treat to see the RSNO back to max strength for last weekend’s concert of Polish repertoire, it is no less exciting to see the SCO performing with a full line-up, however thoughtful has been its exploration of a wide range of chamber music for most of its digital offerings.

With former principal conductor Joseph Swensen on the podium and leader Stephanie Gonley as featured soloist, this is an all-Schumann programme, two works by Robert bracketing one by his wife, Clara. Like Thomas Sondergard with the RSNO, Swensen is clearly delighted to be working with a full band, and the swagger he and they bring to the Overture to Schumann’s sole opera Genoveva is superbly captured in the recording in the Perth Hall’s fine acoustic. Here, as in the Spring Symphony later, the wind soloists have plenty share of the spotlight, and there are some lovely performances, but it is the ensemble sound, and the vigour of it, that is the real treat.

Clara Schumann’s Three Romances were originally written, in 1853, for herself and the couple’s violinist friend Joseph Joachim to play, and this orchestral arrangement by the conductor has been performed by the SCO with Swensen himself as soloist. There is a cumulative emotional effect to the three short movements, and a suggestion in the Allegretto and Romance that Clara might have found a home on Broadway if she had been working a century later. Stephanie Gonley revels in the colour that is in her solo part, and that is mostly matched in Swensen’s orchestration – only in the last movement is the loss of the percussive quality of the piano something of a regret.

When Robin Ticciati conducted and recorded the Schumann symphonies with the SCO, his opening to the first of them was a deal crisper than Swensen’s account of it here, but there is such an energy to the development of this first movement that it more than makes up for that. From the opening trumpet fanfare, this is a sumptuous, full-blooded, account of a work the composer dashed off in days. There is a longed-for richness, rather than any solemnity, in the entry of the three trombones at the end of the Larghetto, and if the singular rhythm of the Scherzo lacks some buoyancy initially, the shaping of the whole work towards its joyous conclusion is emblematic of the season in full flower.  

Keith Bruce

Available to view online until Saturday May 22

Morison / Martineau



In one short song – Scheideblick (Parting Glance) – the justification for Scots mezzo soprano Catriona Morison’s inclusion of six of Josephine Lang’s Lieder in her debut solo album is sealed. It’s an emotionally muted number, a sinuous melancholic setting of a single poetic verse, Lang’s melodic shaping in perfect tune with the sentiment, the simplicity of the piano writing in pianist Malcolm Martineau’s capable hands gently nuanced with harmonic ingenuity, and Morison’s delivery impeccably and movingly intoned.

To position Lang (1815-80) amid such heavyweight songwriters as Schumann, Brahms and Grieg is to give her a rightful airing, for her songs, though mostly conservative in spirit, are both artfully expressive and stylistically adventurous within the parameters of the day. Early lessons from Mendelssohn and promotional support from both Robert and Clara Schumann were supportive in Lang’s bid to make a living from composition after the premature death of her husband, the lawyer and poet Christian Reinhold Köstlin.

It’s Reinhold Köstlin’s own words that are the inspiration for another of Lang’s songs, Ob ich manchmal dein gedenke, Morison again mastering the soft embodiment of this passionate setting. In all Lang’s songs featured here in fact, mostly from the Op 10 set, there is a genuine affinity between their easeful unfolding and a mezzo voice that exudes golden richness in its lower range and ringing lustre in its uppermost tessitura. The final number, Abschied, is a gorgeous example.

Morison and Martineau open this disc with Grieg’s Sechs Lieder and the springlike optimism of Gruss. The relative transparency of these songs, emphasised by their folkish charm, lead satisfyingly into the deeper realms of a Brahms selection that is introduced by the sultry questioning of Dein blaues Auge, and which lingers low until the final muscular exuberance of Meine Liebe ist grün 

Schumann’s Op 90 songs open in martial mode with Lied Eines Schmiedes, immediately countered by the sweet affection of Meine Rose. Morison negotiates the ensuing mood swings with honest and persuasive versatility, concluding on a sublime note with the rippling acceptance of Requiem, but not before releasing those gripping outbursts of passion at its heart.

This release comes at a significant time for Morison, given the enforced emphasis during these Covid months on her concert repertoire. She has the voice for it, and the musicality, and the proof is here.
Ken Walton

BBC SSO / Cottis

City Halls, Glasgow

Someone at the BBC SSO has taken action against the fiasco that was its recent livestream broadcast. Thursday evening’s concert under conductor Jessica Cottis was as much a feast for the eyes as the ears. Far greater creative thought went into marrying camera angles with sound cues implicit in a musical journey that stretched from hard core American minimalism to the traditional heartland of the German Romantic symphony.

Cottis was on the podium by default, due to Israel-based Ilan Volkov’s inability to travel. But she made it entirely her own show, exerting a relaxed and confident hold over an orchestra she knows well from her time as assistant to its previous principal conductor, Sir Donald Runnicles. 

And she brought a touch of theatre to the opening minutes, facing the rear of the City Halls where the distant brass and percussion, spread over a balcony normally inhabited by audience, struck up Joan Tower’s Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No 1 (the now 82-year-old Grammy-winning American composer wrote six of them), a quirky gender response to Aaron Copland’s more familiar Fanfare for the Common Man.

The main equivalence to Copland is the common thunderous drum opening, beyond which Tower veers off on a far less earthbound course. The textures dance, the climax is a whirlwind as ecstatic as (indeed reminiscent of) Janacek’s Sinfonietta, and the glockenspiel serves as a glittery addition of orchestral bling. This performance may have had its reticent moments, but ultimately it swelled big time and served its theatrical purpose.

Back on the main stage, the SSO strings engaged in John Adams’ Shaker Loops, which did invite the troubling question: is such raw, repetitive minimalism really what’s needed when the last thing we wish to be reminded of is the monotony of lockdown life? And this piece in particular, its persistently manic tremolando effects inspired by the frenzied rituals of the American Shaker sects, has an inbuilt tendency to set the nerves jangling. Which it did rather well. 

Yet Adams’ oscillating sound sculpture, while it starts like a rave in a beehive, is not all concentrated superheat. Yes, Cottis sourced the necessary electricity that drives the outermost movements, sometimes with pulverising persistence, always with trance-inducing focus. But she also embraced the rich mystical qualities of the second movement – Hymning Slews – its whistling harmonics, slithering motifs and altogether spookier soundscape representing a welcome respite.

In Schumann’s Second Symphony – a work remarkably positive and buoyant given the composer’s prevailing state of mind – the real thrill was to hear something approaching the full symphonic sound we’ve been missing since March. Cottis exercised a firm hand but with ample lightness of foot, so that the music’s essential solidity, while firmly rooted and warmly expressive in the weeping slow movement, had levity and sparkle conveyed through the SSO’s lithe, crisp playing, its clean textures and alert tempi.
Ken Walton

Image: Jessica Cottis credit Kaupo Kikkas

SCO/ Schumann/Brahms

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

It seems entirely fitting that a chamber orchestra should find it so natural to lay on a chamber music series as its digital answer to the COVID dilemma that has laid waste this year’s planned orchestral seasons. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra hasn’t disappointed with the release last Thursday (8 October) of the first such evening concert recorded in its home at the Queen’s Hall. In truth, it required a warm-up number to garner the level of composure that would ensure the evening’s main work – Brahms’ serious-minded String Sextet No 2, Op 36 – got the warm-hearted engagement expected of it. In that respect, Schumann’s Marchenerzahlungen (fairytales) for clarinet, viola and piano, the interweaving intricacies critical in addressing its expressive character, took time to establish an easeful interaction.

It was in the final two movements that William Stafford (clarinet), Felix Tanner (viola) and Michael Bawtree (piano) opened the doors to a genuinely relaxed musical empathy and the charms immediately revealed themselves. Schumann’s music breathed, any four-squareness was forgotten. Bawtree’s rippling pianism in the penultimate Ruhiges Tempo inspired persuasive conversations to surface, serving as a powerful emotional springboard to the determined rhythmic thrust of the finale.

Both works were chosen and warmly introduced by SCO violinist Rachel Smith as “dear to her heart”, and she, herself, formed part of the cohesive string line-up for the Brahms and a performance that tastefully harnessed its mixed emotions. There were many magical moments: the opening gurgle of oscillating violas as a scene-setter for the later glowing cello theme that emerges like an autumnal sun rise; the rustic catharsis that inflames the scherzo; the teasing, embryonic chromaticism that  introduces the questioning Adagio; or the sudden passionate outflow of optimism that sets the Finale apart. 

While we may only be getting occasional sightings of the full SCO in the foreseeable months, it’s a welcoming thought that its component parts are in action and in such good shape.

(View this concert online at www.sco.org.uk)
Ken Walton