The musicians of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra may have looked at the schedule for their tour of Europe and thought that last weekend was a leisurely one, somewhere between Lucerne and Frankfurt.
In fact it was swiftly filled with a recording session for the Linn record label with the label's chief producer, Philip Hobbs, at the controls. The Frankfurt session was hastily arranged to capture the account of Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the much-loved Pastoral, which has been wowing audiences from Rotterdam to Vienna (via Toulouse) and which Scottish audiences will be able to hear this week.
For conductor Robin Ticciati the recording is a major decision. He has taken Beethoven's Third out on the road with this orchestra and directed a few performances of the Fifth, but the Pastoral is a work that he has really worked on, especially for the programme that has now come home from its journey across the continent.
"I have strong feelings about pieces and this is one I've done most work with. It is the only one I would consider recording in terms of Beethoven. I know what I feel about the piece and how I want it to sound."
This particular way of considering each piece on its own merits is a little at odds with the current fashion for undertaking symphonic cycles in recordings and concert programming.
"I see it as quite individual," says Ticciati. "The piece is about acceptance, after the Fifth's focus on fate, precipitated by his deafness."
That psychological insight into the familiar landscape of the Sixth – "The storm is not only about the natural world," says Ticciati – is matched by some deep reading into performance practice at the time of its premiere that may prove startling to some listeners. It has led the conductor to ask his string players to revise familiar bowings in places and produce rather different aural effects.
At the start of the storm, quiet "raindrop" notes usually played staccato at the end of the bow are instead played, in this reading, off the string with the middle of the bow. Ticciati describes this as "the sound of a consciousness unravelling, ghostly and less martial and vertical".
What it also does is give the following deluge a power you would not normally associate with anything less than a full symphony orchestra –the SCO's storm is a meteorological event that puts you in mind of recent news footage.
It comes at the end of a programme of conventional structure that is full of the sort of music audiences want to hear. This concert in the SCO's own season has also slotted neatly into Svend Brown's series at Glasgow's concert halls as the opener for The Piano, 10 days centred on the City Halls with some of the worlds best pianists. The SCO starts the season with Maria Jaoa Pires playing Mozart's Piano Concert No17 and is also there for the closing weekend with Alasdair Beatson and the film music of Michael Nyman and Philip Glass, conducted by Clark Rundell.
For Ticciati, at present his attention is on an earlier era. He has teamed the Beethoven with Wagner's Siegfried Idyll as the concert's opener. "It is a pastoral programme, about the nature of man's relationship to nature and the cosmos, but this orchestra knows the different worlds of Beethoven and Wagner's late romanticism – it is there in the stylistic awareness of the strings.
"This orchestra is world class in terms of its sound, so we can talk about individual notes and details of phrasing, intonation and balance, and performance practice in the late 1700s and the beautiful white and black difference between 'piano' and 'forte' back then."
In fact Ticciati hopes the Wagner may be teamed with the Pastoral Symphony on the Linn disc when it is released to preserve the concert pairing. It is about how the music sounds, not historical authenticity. "I feel compelled to do the research and then feel the audience get behind it, but there is no right or wrong about it. The more informed I am, the more my personal decisions are grounded in a sense of how it might have been done, but the more I read the freer I become, because you have to make the music relevant to the people who hear it now."
Come the spring, when Ticciati returns for another series of concerts with the SCO, the focus moves on to Schubert, Schumann and Mahler, with another strand of the thread of Berlioz that has run through his programmes, in a performance of Harold in Italy with Antoine Tamestit on viola.
The notable soloists for most concert-goers will be the singers. Ticciati says the star casting is all down to the orchestra's popularity with singers. "This orchestra can get whatever singers it wants," he says.
Baritone Matthias Goerne will be singing Schubert as arranged by Webern, Brahms and Reger and, the next week, Karen Cargill and Toby Spence perform Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde in a new arrangement for chamber orchestra.
"Size is never really the issue," says Ticciati. "You can go into textual detail that might escape larger forces, and exploit that chamber music element. The SCO accompanies voices very well, a legacy of all those operas with Mackerras. But all music is singing, the best cello playing is singing."
Ticciati has shown himself not to be worried about the comparison in following Mackerras with Mozart operas, but he does believe the late Mozart symphonies are off-limits. Hence perhaps that notable focus on late Romantic works, which is something that may also prove true of his new post at Glyndebourne. Early music has its specialists like Haim, Christie and Egarr, and Ticciati drops more than a hint that Romantic repertoire is where he may be tentatively putting down some roots, both in the opera house and on the concert platform. But we shall have to wait for the announcement of his next season of music with the SCO to confirm that direction.
Robin Ticciati conducts the SCO with Maria Joan Pires at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, tomorrow; Glasgow City Halls on Friday; and Perth Concert Hall on Saturday.