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KATE MOLLESON

Thinking back over Scotland's live classical music in 2012, it's striking just how many highlights happened at the keyboard.

In the spring Susan Tomes played elegant, conversational Mozart with violinist Erich Hobarth for small but captivated audiences in Perth. In June Alasdair Beatson's Mozart with the wind principals of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was bold and boisterous at the Cottier Chamber Music Project; in November his Schubert – the Wanderer Fantasy at Glasgow's Piano series –was intimate and thrilling.

In July at the East Neuk Festival, Llyr Williams gave Beethoven's Opus 109 an interpretation that was surprising and searching and wonderful for it. In August Leif Ove Andsnes's muscular Waldstein Sonata and Daniil Trifonov's Chopinistic storm were highlights of the Queen's Hall series at the Edinburgh International Festival. In October the combination of Steven Osborne, Andrew Manze and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra brought collaborative spontaneity and blithe swagger to Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto – luckily just the first in a complete run of Beethoven piano concertos from Osborne and the SSO; watch this space. And last month, Glasgow's Piano series closed with a heroic performance of Schubert's late B-flat Major Sonata from the doyenne of Russian piano playing, Elisabeth Leonskaja.

It should have been a big year for Scottish Opera, too, what with the company turning 50 in June. But celebrations on the day were underwhelming at best: a so-so concert double bill of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci marked the date with the operatic equivalent of a limp handshake. A couple of other productions made up for it during the rest of the year, though. Thomas Allen's handsome steampunk reworking of The Magic Flute had the makings of an instant classic, and David McVicar and John Macfarlane handled The Rake's Progress with grace, daring and insight.

On the orchestral platform the BBC SSO continued to programme a happy mix of new and known, and their most adventurous lineups usually found Ilan Volkov wielding the baton (the Richard Ayres portrait concert, the New Century spotlight on Second Viennese School composers and the John Cage centenary tributes come to mind straight off).

The vivacious Rameau-Handel programme from Emmanuelle Haïm, inset below, was a highlight with the SCO, as was their glowing performance of Beethoven's Pastoral under Robin Ticciati in November. Fierce gales stranded RSNO musicians on the outer reaches of Foula and Fair Isle in March, and rumour has it the hospitality they found there was so warm that they were disappointed when the storm finally passed. But the orchestra's Shetland residency was a flying success, fostering the kind of genuine folk-classical crossbreeding that often falls flat. Memories of fiddler Maurice Henderson teaching reels to an RSNO oboe quartet in a school gym in Unst will take some time to fade.

Two orchestra gigs stood out at the Edinburgh International Festival: the luxury sheen and high horsepower of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester and Daniele Gatti, and the incomparable warmth and character of Ivan Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra in Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

A few notable one-offs, too. John Butt and the Dunedin Consort opened the Lammermuir Festival with a performance of Bach's St John Passion that cut to the heart. Paul Hillier and the Theatre of Voices took us back to the late 1960s sitting cross-legged and low-lit on the Old Fruitmarket floor for Stockausen's Stimmung. A great, white moon hung over the Hebrides Ensemble for a mesmerising account of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire. The craggy silhouette of Tantallon Castle lit up in neon pinks and blues for Red Note Ensemble's site-specific Lammermuir Fest spectacular. And Sonica spiced up November with a series of playful sonic arts installations that promises much more where it came from.

All in all, not a bad haul for 12 short months.

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