Last night the Scottish Chamber Orchestra performed their season finale to an almost full Usher Hall – only the Upper Circle had any significant empty seats. On paper this might have appeared to be a safe programme of Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Mozart but under the able baton of Trevor Pinnock the performance was anything but.
The first piece was Mendelssohn’s overture Die schöne Melusine which is a well known piece and regularly played by the orchestra. The piece began with wonderful rippling sounds from the woodwind, particularly from principal flute Alison Mitchell. This nicely combined with sumptuous playing from the strings who were on top form in the faster sections as well. Trevor Pinnock’s tempo was brisk but never rushed and capture the breadth of the piece perfectly.
This was followed by one of my favourite piano concertos of all time – Beethoven’s 4th – performed by the great Portuguese/Brazilian pianist Maria João Pires. Although she was perhaps a little too loud in the first movement given the size of the orchestra, she never drowned them out. The fast runs and trills were very clear and brilliant. In the second movement Trevor Pinnock took a very slow tempo – probably the slowest I’ve heard – but this was no bad thing as it gave the music space – particularly in the broad string writing. Unfortunately Pires was less than perfect in the finale as there were a few slips despite a not excessively fast tempo. Nevertheless, the piece played out to a gloriously upbeat tempo with the orchestra again on top form. For an encore, pianist and conductor joined each other at the keyboard for a wonderful duet – probably the only occasion I shall ever see the harpsichordist Pinnock at a 9 ft concert grand. The identity of the piece is unfortunately unknown to me (early Mozart or one of Beethoven’s WoO perhaps). [edit: it was (probably) the last movement from Mozart’s Sonata for four hands, KV123A.] This hilarious piece ran as a series of witty repartees between the pianists and had the Usher Hall audience laughing out loud.
The final piece of the night, and indeed the SCO 09/10 season, was Mozart’s Symphony Nº 39. this is not as well known as some of Mozart’s other late symphonies – indeed it was the first time I had heard it. It was a wonderful piece that was great fun to listen to. There was more superb woodwind playing, this time from clarinettists Max Martin and Tom Verity in the trio section of the third movement. The finale was played at a rip-roaring pace and gave the clarinets more chance to shine, echoing figures with the flute.
This was a glorious end to an excellent SCO season and I eagerly look forward to next season which begins as this one ended with Mozart – Don Giovanni under principal conductor Robin Ticciati.