Last year, when the SCO launched their season, I noted it was a shame that Robin Ticciati had opted to do so with Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique rather than to turn again to concert opera, as he did in his first full season with Don Giovanni. It seems unlikely this is the reason they have decided to perform Così fan tutte, but the choice is most welcome nonetheless. Ticciati did well with the Don and I have heard excellent reports of his Così at Glyndebourne. The cast includes Sally Matthews and Christopher Maltman.
Speaking of criticisms rectified, ever since he stood in and provided some rather excellent Beethoven four years ago, we have been asking why the orchestra hasn't engaged James Lowe for a regular season concert. Alas, they have not done so this year. However, he does conduct the orchestra's family concert. In much the same way as they did with Voice of a City, the orchestra are giving a place on the stage to local school-age musicians, this time the Edinburgh Primary Schools Choir for Stephen Deazley and Matt Harvey's A Little Book of Monsters (co-commissioned by the orchestra for the occasion). It ranks among the items I am most looking forward to. Indeed, while I say it is not a main season concert, I mean it isn't lumped in with the subscription series and isn't in the evening. I'm glad to see the SCO have put it in the main section of the programme with the main season rather than hiding it away. Next year, though, SCO, you know what I want.....
Another potential highlight involves some of the soloists the orchestra has engaged. David Watkin plays Schumann's cello concerto, Alec Frank-Gemmill plays the horn in Britten's Serenade for tenor, horn and strings (one of several items by the composer to celebrate his centenary next year) and Maximiliano Martin and Peter Whelan are on hand for Weber's clarinet and bassoon concertos respectively. The eagle-eyed will note that these fine players lead their respective sections in the orchestra. That the orchestra has such talent to draw on is one of its great strengths and previous such performances have been rather special. Alexander Janiczek directing while Watkin, Whelan and oboist Robin Williams solo in Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante is similarly not to be missed. Indeed, I find these concerts a more exciting prospect than many a hired gun they have brought in over the years. (The fact that the orchestra, Martin and Whelan have recorded the Weber, due for release shortly before the concert, is probably not a co-incidence, but given previous fine wind concerto recordings they have made, I do not begrudge this.)
Another soloist highlight is Maria Joao Pires, who plays Mozart's wonderful 17th concerto with Ticciati, the programme also features Wagner's Siegfried Idyll and continuing one of this season's themes, Beethoven's pastoral symphony. Though here it must be noted that there is rather too strong a sense of deja vu, with the second piano concerto and the 3rd, 6th and 7th symphonies all making a repeat appearance for a second year running. Elsewhere, after his fine Haydn last season, it is good to see that Ticciati is bringing at least one more symphony next year.
There is a reasonable dose of new music. High on the list is Baldur Brönnimann's concert in October which includes the premiere of Lyell Cresswell's triple concerto together with Toru Takemitsu's How Slow the Wind. John Storgårds conducts the UK premiere of Einojuhani Rautavaara's Into the Heart of Light in a programme with Mendelssohn's Reformation symphony and Beethoven's 2nd piano concerto, for which Artur Pizarro returns. Thierry Fischer conducts the Scottish premiere of James MacMillan's oboe concerto (with Francois Leleux) along with Stravinsky's beautiful Pulcinella suite and Mendelssohn's Italian symphony. The concert conducted by George Benjamin is also interesting, featuring Birtwistle's Carmen arcadiae mechanicae peretuum and a repeat performance of Martin Suckling's storm, rose, tiger. This second is welcome on two counts, first because often works are commissioned and then vanish, but also on a personal note because I was unable to attend this season's performance.
It is a shame that among the Mendelssohn symphonies they are not giving the SCO chorus a workout with the underrated 2nd, Hymn of Praise. Yet the chorus will get to have fun with Haydn's Nelson Mass under the baton of noted Haydn interpreter Adam Fischer, who also brings The Clock. However, in general I find less to be excited about among the chorus's contributions than I have in recent seasons.
There are a fair few Schubert symphonies, with David Afkham bringing the Great C Major, Richard Egarr the Little C Major, Robert Levin wraping up the season with the 2nd and Ticciati conducting the 5th. That programme also features the adagietto from Mahler's 5th symphony. Given that a week later they are joined by soloists Toby Spence and Karen Cargill for Das Lied von der Erde (interestingly Glen Cortese's arrangement and not the more famous Schoenberg and Riehn one), it makes me wonder if I missed trick a few years ago when I nearly did an April fool write up of the orchestra's season announcement which would have featured a Mahler cycle with contemporary composers commissioned to arrange those without chamber versions. Sadly as these days the orchestra announces their programmes in March you are unlikely to read of MacMillan's take on Mahler's Resurrection, Oliver Knussen's interesting choices of orchestration in the 5th, Runnicles making the leap to conducting a version of the 8th with just single parts (a big change from the last time he tackled the work) and Mustonen completing the 10th on piano alone. But I digress..... On a more serious note, it is a shame that Oliver Knussen does not join the orchestra this year.
Earlier I mentioned the celebrations of Britten's centenary. These also include Richard Egarr pairing him with Purcell, something that has not wholly convinced me when I've heard it done before, and Part's Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten. He also crops up in the second of this year's two chamber concerts (sadly we're back down to two this year). Of course, if they really want to do him proud, the ideal way to open the 2013/14 season might be with one of his chamber operas. Given the small scoring of something like The Rape of Lucretia, it need not break the bank.
In summary, it looks a promising season, and one that makes me wish I didn't have other commitments on Thursday evenings which keep me from going to as many concerts as I would like. (Full details will be published on the SCO website later today. Links to brochures will be added once they are available.)
Links to the season brochures: Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. The orchestra is again offering a combined season with the RSNO in Aberdeen.