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Michael Tumelty's review of the year

SELECTING highlights is a very personal business.

Sometimes it's the programme that strikes you, sometimes the conductor, the orchestra, a soloist or a context. 2013, for me, exploded into life at the beginning of February with the Scottish premiere of James MacMillan's Oboe Concerto, of which the abiding memory was the unforgettable presence and playing of soloist Francois Leleux with the SCO. Many details of the event have receded in the memory, but I have never heard such a tour de force of superhuman playing as that produced by that sensational Frenchman, by which, almost a year on, my mind remains scorched.

One of the great projects of 2013 (though it started the year before) was the complete cycle of Beethoven's string quartets, played in Perth by Nobuko Imai's Michelangelo String Quartet. By the time it came to May, when they played the original version of the opus 130 Quartet, with Beethoven's Great Fugue, opus 133, attached as the finale the composer had intended, the group was absolutely in command of the music, the idiom and its audience, producing a performance of unwavering concentration and clarity.

On into the Edinburgh International Festival and Christian Gerhaher's performance of Schumann's Dichterliebe.

The singer was suffering from a throat infection, but, bruised voice and all, he ploughed on, somehow transferring his artistry to his penetrating insight into the text. You could hear his pain, but you could also feel that of Schumann's poet with unusual intensity. No pain entailed in violinist Midori's brilliant brace of concerts surveying the Sonatas and Partitas of Bach; just power, passion, absolute lucidity and total certainty of conviction. A glory of the 2013 EIF.

Catapulting forward into the present winter season, it does seem to me that since it opened, there has been a stream of superlative concerts which have marked out the period as something rather special in the year and in Scotland's music.

The great chiming, chanting, gleaming and glittering soundscape of James MacMillan's Third Piano Concerto at the start of the RSNO's new season had me roaring that, on first hearing, it was clearly a complete masterpiece. It was played that way too, by the orchestra, pianist Jean Yves Thibaudet and conductor Peter Oundjian.

Then came Oundjian's shattering account of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem which, as I remarked in my review, was one of the supreme experiences of my concert life, and a defining moment in Oundjian's career to date with the RSNO.

Meanwhile, Donald Runnicles and the BBC SSO took off in their own new season with a mighty and majestic Mahler Five, and the orchestra, a little later, produced a really high-voltage experience with an incendiary account of Nielsen's Fourth Symphony with Danish dynamo, Thomas Dausgaard, conducting.

Most recently, Robin Ticciati and his Scottish Chamber Orchestra stepped up to the plate with a pretty revelatory survey of Schumann's four symphonies, which constituted yet another nail in the coffin of the prejudice that still clings (a little desperately now) to criticism of Robert Schumann's abilities as a symphonist, an orchestrator, a texturer, and the creator of some of the most ravishing slow movements in musical history. Remember, these great works were not only performed, they were also recorded by Linn Records as the concert series unfolded.

We won't have too long to wait for the results of this missionary work: they'll be released in 2014.

So, I actually sense a kind of momentum through the later stages of the year in musical Scotland. Put all that lot together, from the moment the autumn seasons rolled out their wares.

Add in the new Sunday afternoon Piano series in Perth, which opened in early October, Glasgow's own piano series and the recent garlanding of Edinburgh music with Leif Ove Andsnes and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra at the Usher Hall, and, racing from October towards the end of the year, there is a feeling of acceleration, accumulation and crescendo.

2014? Bring it on.

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