Monday, 27 January 2014

Happy 40th Birthday SCO

Forty years ago today, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra took to the stage of the City Hall, Glasgow, for the first time. You can read, and indeed hear, more about it on their blog. It's probably fitting that they played some Beethoven, one of the composers they have played best and been most closely associated with, never more so than in that rather special cycle of his symphonies at the Edinburgh festival in 2006 under the baton of the late, great Charles Mackerras.

I've written about that cycle elsewhere, and about their association with Charles Mackerras at length, for that I point you to my obituary, rather than repeat it. But what he achieved with them was superb. I've heard different Mozart, but never better: see the recordings of late Mozart symphonies for Linn (or indeed operas for Telarc and concertos with Brendel on Philips). There is a rich legacy on disc and I wanted to accompany this post with a spotify playlist of some favourite recordings. Alas, too many from the likes of Hyperion (the Edinburgh festival Beethoven) and Telarc (Don Giovanni, Fidelio and a superb disc of Schubert's great C major and unfinished symphonies) cannot be found there. Indeed, fine recordings under other conductors are missing too: I can't find Tippett's concerto for double string orchestra, conducted by the composer himself.

For me, one of the orchestra's great strengths is the high calibre of their principals. A few years back, when the Berlin Philharmonic visited London for a residence, one writer was especially wowed by the solo playing within the orchestra, but I wouldn't take them up on a swap. The SCO can put the likes of David Watkin or Alec Frank-Gemmill, to name but two, on for a concerto without you feeling in the least shortchanged. Indeed, such concerts are often season highlights for me. This is exemplified in their disc of Mozart wind concerti for Linn which includes superb solo performances from flautist Alison Mitchell, clarinetist Maximiliano Martin and bassoonist Ursula Leveaux. Indeed my only criticism of the disc, is that it does not include a reading from Leveaux's replacement Peter Whelan whose very different style and unmistakable tone would make a fascinating contrast.

Another strength is their partnership with the SCO Chorus, in fine form these days under Gregory Batsleer.

It will soon be five years since Robin Ticciati became chief conductor. Under his leadership they have achieved a consistently high standard of playing that sometimes used to elude them with some guest conductors in between Mackerras's visits. Their performances of Haydn's symphonies have been something of a revelation; one coupled with Szymanowski and Stravinsky's Orpheus stands out. A performance of Shostakovich's devastating 14th symphony from the 2012 festival still sticks in my mind. He has also brought concert opera to the regular season, something Mackerras instilled in them over many years of festival performances. That said, I find it a slight pity that the works they've chosen to record are not the things that have stood out most for me.

I've only known the orchestra closely for the last ten years or so, and perhaps twenty through recordings. Hopefully I'll still know them in another forty. In the meantime, some of the recordings that are on spotify:

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