Scottish Chamber Orchestra Concert
**** 4 Stars
Having thoroughly enjoyed the SCO’s concert which opened the week celebrating Musselburgh’s Riding of the Marches in 2016, I was delighted to learn that they were returning to play at the Brunton and, to add even more interest to the gig, that they were bringing the premiere of a theorbo concerto. For those of you who aren’t aficionados of Handel’s operas and thus don’t have the joy of occasionally spotting one or two theorbos in the orchestra, it’s a lute which is trying to resemble a giraffe – its neck is extended to what seems an impossibly unwieldy length, to allow for the attachment of a number of unfretted bass strings, which can be played in their own right and add depth and richness to the instrument’s sound.
Composer Stephen Goss was not someone I’d come across before – he’s Welsh, an Arsenal supporter, a guitarist who performs in his own right, and a composer who writes for such people as guitarist John Williams, flautist William Bennett, and tenor Ian Bostridge. Soloist Matthew Wadsworth studied lute at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal Conservatory of Music in The Hague: he now plays as both soloist and chamber musician in the UK, Europe, and North America.
Matthew joined the SCO strings for the opening Chacony by Purcell, in which a simple chord sequence and deeply poignant melody were repeated with ever-changing texture and rhythmic variety before fading into a melancholy silence. Warlock’s Capriol Suite was written in 1926, but looks back to the music of the Renaissance, using dance rhythms of the time and applying exquisitely twisting harmonies: no theorbo here, but infectious music that would have got us up and dancing had we been invited…
Matthew Wadsworth returned to join the orchestra in Goss’s concerto, introduced by a shivering of strings with intertwining melodic lines rising, echoing, and falling, after which a drone on the double bass ushered in the theorbo’s opening firework display. Of necessity a staccato instrument [plucked and strummed] its melodic lines interwove with the melting legato of the first violin, whose theme was taken up and elaborated by the whole orchestra. From time to time the double bass burst into frantic pizzicato; a wackily skewed waltz wove its way past our ears; a percussive trio of theorbo, first violin, and double bass developed into a whole-orchestra thrash. Viola and cello got their turns in the spotlight with the theorbo: there were hints of Britten, Fauré, and who knows who else besides – it was a fascinating and enchanting piece that I would love to hear again.
The second half began with Gemigniani’s Concerto Grosso Op 5 No.12 ‘La Folia’. Based on a sonata by Corelli, it uses as its theme a folk tune which was first used by composers in the 17th century and has been used by some 150 composers in the past three centuries. A small group of the SCO’s strings were joined again by Matthew Wadsworth and they danced through an ever-increasing complexity of rhythm and texture with some impressive virtuosity from first violinist and director Benjamin Marquise Gilmore and cellist Philip Higham.
Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No 10 in B minor and Grieg’s Holberg Suite closed the concert, and were of a completely different style and texture – rather like a creamy dessert after a delightfully piquant series of entrées. The Mendelssohn was a Romantic wash of sound, a smooth coherent whole – a single theme with some individual lines, rather than a conversation of contrasts. The Grieg was more astringent, but still louder and lusher: there were hints of the Baroque, and folk tunes and rhythms crept in: as my note at the time said, “it was beautifully played, but ultimately more boring!” The final section reminded me forcefully of the hornpipe from the Last Night of the Proms, and was greeted with similarly enthusiastic applause.
I was delighted to have the astringency of the opening pieces restored with a heart-stoppingly delicate encore: Matthew Wadsworth rejoined the SCO in a chaconne from Purcell’s King Arthur, which fully engaged my heart, my ears and my brain and sent me out happily into the glorious sunset staining the evening sky.
Scottish Chamber Orchestra Concert, The Brunton, Run Ended