Sunday, 4 May 2008

The Adventurous SCO

Those following my series on the SCO's 2007/8 season may, with some justification, complain that I have, thus far, completely ignored the Adventurer strand, which focuses on new music. Those same people are entitled to further confusion since there are many posts here which are positive about new compositions, so I'm clearly not turning my nose up at them because I don't think they're going to be tuneful.

So, what has happened? I seem to have managed to miss the first three. For one it clashed with a production of Salad Days, which frankly trumped Elts. Annoyingly, Oliver Knussen (whom I will hear at Aldeburgh next month) fell by the wayside on December 15th as I had a rather nasty bug and didn't feel up to going out. The audience should probably be grateful for my restraint. Then, on 19th January, an old and dear friend held his stag do and, much as I would have liked to review Garry Walker's concert, I think Andy would have been fully justified in not speaking to me again. Fortunately, no such conflict or mishap occurred on Thursday 10th April. John Storgards conducted the orchestra in a programme of MacRae, Hallgrimsson and Strauss.

First up was MacRae's Birches, an SCO commission. I've encountered MacRae's music only once before, in the 2006 Festival during new opera The Assassin Tree. More so than then, I found his composition a bit of the whir-plonk school and only very occassionally evocative of trees in the way his note suggested it should be: at the start he nicely captured a wind-in-the-trees feeling. But, in general, I found it a rather forgettable piece.

Fortunately the Hallgrimsson was much better. A co-commission with the Oslo Philharmonic and the Iceland Symphony, it was his cello concerto and the excellent Truls Mork was on hand to play it. The orchestration was very full, and yet it never felt silly in the kitchen sink sense that can so often happen in such circumstances, nothing felt like it was included simply for the sake of it. There was some excellent playing, the basses and brass in the opening particularly. Mork was superb, especially in the quieter moments. Indeed, here Storgards deserves praise: volume wasn't the ghost of a problem as it so often has been. The single movement piece developed and flowed organically. Almost immediately I wanted to hear it again. I sincerely hope we do not have to wait too long for a recording. I look forward to Mork's return for less contemporary fare in October.

I'm not, unlike my brother, the biggest fan of Strauss, but the evening's final work made me question why: Strauss's Metamorphosen. Storgards led it well as it developed and morphed organically, indeed, it was in that respect an excellent pairing for the Hallgrimsson. The strings of the SCO were at their finest. In short it was a hypnotic and beautiful experience. I have a recording from Furtwangler that I'm clearly going to have to spin more often.

All in all, a very fine concert, which makes me doubly sorry I've missed so many, hopefully events won't get in the way of the three I've booked for next year (I'm skipping Elts again).

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