It must be a rarity for someone to greet the words "[insert name here] is unfortunately unable to conduct this week's concerts due to illness." with relief. Not, I hasten to add, out of any ill-will I bear Olari Elts; indeed, I hope he recovered speedily (this not particularly timely review refers to a concert given on 8th May). However, he has not much impressed me in the concert hall, and I had already decided to delete his appearances from my subscription next year.
But any relief was fairly short lived. His replacement, Andreas Spering, gave a performance that was at times extremely odd. According to Tumelty's review in The Herald, orchestra and conductor didn't get on well, with some in the orchestra feeling he had nothing to do with the performance. If I was them, I wouldn't want to advocate that line too loudly. The programme led off with Beethoven's 3rd symphony. I've said before that there has been too much music that Charles Mackerras has played recently with this orchestra, and much better; when there is so much to choose from this is odd. The eroica falls into this category. Somehow, I was in the back row of the main stalls (odd since for most concerts I've been at the front), still, this was actually some relief as like most conductors this season, Spering was unable to moderate his volume for the Queen's Hall. The vision of the symphony itself was downright bizarre, sounding almost as though it had been reworked for a purely string orchestra.
This was followed by Haydn's Nelson Mass (again Mackerras territory, though he has not done this work with them). Again volume was a problem. Indeed, Spering's approach seemed to be something of a sledgehammer one, which makes it all the odder that he apparently has roots in period practice. The soloists, including the excellent Karen Cargill, who sang so well in Das Lied von der Erde under Runnicles recently, were good, but Spering's accompaniment was poor. That said, there was some good playing, the trumpets in the Benedictus, for example. The Miserere nobis was excellently performed too, and the SCO Chorus was a solid as ever. But ultimately, it didn't really grab me, up to and including the final chord which sounded like a penultimate one. In the end I found more interest in trying to identify which member of the chorus's score was being reflected in a screen.
So what of the attempt, failed in the end by both circumstances within and outwith my control, to attend all of the SCO concerts this season. I learned a lot from it, but mainly that it was a mistake. I have sent in my form for next season. Despite my protestations about the manifest unsuitability of St Cuthbert's church for classical performance, it is still being used for the Cl@six series. I will not be attending these. Another pity is that the number of chamber concerts has dropped. Shockingly, Mackerras is only coming to Glasgow and Perth, so I'll be on the train for that. Other than that, I have mainly made savings by cutting out the Elts concerts. These will be more than compensated for by attending more from both the RSNO and BBC Scottish, not to mention getting to a few more things in London, the LSO season has some particularly interesting things.
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