by Talia Regan
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Saturday night concert was an impressively curated programme featuring the work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart alongside that of his nearest contemporaries and influences. The bill was constructed with a view to placing Mozart in his musical context, a goal which was utterly achieved. The concert opened with Michael Haydn’s Präludium and Fugue in D, a piece which, undeservedly, is little known today. The vigour of Haydn’s composition was matched by the lively conducting of Reinhard Goebel and its dynamism, sparklingly rendered by the orchestra. From the start, Goebel demonstrated his expertise in the music of the Early Classical period. His distinctive sense for the spirit of each piece on the programme was artfully communicated to the musicians and, in turn, to the audience.
Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, otherwise known simply as ‘Paris’, was the evening’s highlight. In any setting, the work can hardly fail to please; it perfectly balances baroque ornamentalism with a classical refinery. The dazzling and vibrant score was brought to life with an energy that was nothing short of infectious. Goebel’s conducting was quick, but not at all rushed. Next on the programme was Leopold Mozart’s charming short-form Sinfonia in G major. The composition is not especially challenging to the listener. Nonetheless, the SCO performed it prettily and managed to eek some excitement from a work which is somewhat unvaried. The first half culminated in the headlining work, Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4. The SCO’s dedication to reinvigorating performance of the music of the Early Classical period came through particularly in their rendition of Mozart’s rollicking concerto. The decision to use the natural horn in lieu of its valved descendent was one well made; while valves provide the player with a great deal more harmonic flexibility, they greatly diminish the tonal and timbral variations which the instrument can emit, variations integral to the composition’s original aesthetic. It was in his tone that the soloist, Alec Frank-Gemmill, most excelled. Frank-Gemmill managed to coax something wonderfully syrupy from his instrument, even in the grittiest parts of its range. Despite a few pitchy moments, particularly in the first movement, Frank-Gemmill’s playing was splendidly articulated and exceedingly dynamic. He brought considerable spirit to an already spirited piece, and it was a joy to listen to.
The second half opened with a selection of instrumental music from Johann Christian Bach’s
last opera, Amadis de Gaule. The pieces were very well chosen in keeping with the evening’s theme; JC Bach’s music merits a much more prominent place in the standard concert hall repertoire, and these pieces, particularly the Overture and the Gavotte, are no exception. The orchestration for the woodwinds is especially brilliant, and Principal Flautist Alison Mitchell gave the evening’s standout performance, lilting and honey-toned. The concert closed with selections from the ballet music which Mozart composed for his opera Idomeneo. Goebel’s conducting, exceptional throughout, somehow managed to improve upon itself in these last pieces. He drew from the orchestra a performance which, though technically masterful and evidently well rehearsed, felt spontaneous and vital. The second of the two pieces, the Pas seul de Mr Le Grand, was of consummate musical quality and jaunty disposition, proving to be the ideal finale to a decidedly enjoyable and tremendously well-conceived programme.