Queens Hall, Edinburgh
What a stunning evening of music! The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has been celebrating the 150th birthdays of composers Carl Nielsen and Jean Sibelius all this year with a series of concerts exploring their music. In addition to Nielson and Sibelius, we were treated to a glorious World Premiere of Verdigris by Lotta Wennakoski.
The palette devised by Wennakoski was energetically enlivened by the playing of the SCO. Such a treat to hear the many Avant Garde techniques asked of all the players, including haunting, wiry string landscapes, and almost audible mutterings from the wind section. This was a truly exciting start to the evening. Wennakoski speaks of this piece as a personal and fruitful reference to the music of Sibelius with his tone poem En Saga laying the footwork for her composition.
The real gem of the evening was Nielson’s Violin Concerto with soloist Pekka Kuusisto. A beautiful and unexpected piece with complicated melodic structures and unassuming solo lines, played with care, connection and ease. Kuusisto is magnetic and skilled in all aspects of his performance and I felt truly inspired by his virtuosic freedom. We were also treated to two Polskas, which he later told me he felt sure these beautiful folk songs would not have been played before in such a grand venue. It was a privilege to hear the playing of such a humble maestro.
The evening was brought to a close with the UK premiere of an orchestral arrangement of one of Sibelius’ least known pieces, his only opera – The Maiden in the Tower. In this orchestral arrangement instruments of the orchestra replace all the vocal parts. Before hearing this work I was already intrigued by this concept and the aural reality did not fail to please. The melodic lines danced throughout the orchestra with dramatic monologues and soaring duets. Sibelius’ soundscapes are lush and powerful and this performance was exactly that.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra not only played wonderfully, with integrity, they also exuded passion and excitement in playing this music. All of this together makes for a perfect evening of culture, creativity and escapism. My only disappointment is that there were empty seats. This concert deserves a full house. I would be there again in a heartbeat.
REVIEWER : Ali Bell