Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Swensen

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

I SUSPECT it was not selected for the date in the calendar, but Janacek’s The Fiddler’s Child turned out to be a suitably spooky offering for Halloween. That is true of the story of a ghostly violin (played by co-leader Stephanie Godley) that haunts the short life of a poor musician’s offspring, but more significantly of the composer’s scoring with the featured violas, lower strings, bass clarinet and bassoon all playing their crucially atmospheric parts.

Conductor Joseph Swensen had assembled a large chamber orchestra for the work, with the rare sight of a tuba (the RSNO’s John Whitener) at the end of the row of brass. The line-up for Dvorak’s 5th Symphony was also substantial, although the 24 strings were never overwhelmed. In fact there was such lovely clarity in the winds from the beginning, and strong section work from the cellos at the start of the second and fourth movements (the latter with the basses) that the necessity of a larger Edinburgh venue for this orchestra was perhaps called into question.

And this was an odd, if effective, SCO programme, in which only the opening Serenade for Strings by Josef Suk was obvious ‘chamber orchestra’ repertoire. This young man’s music was much more conservative than that of his contemporary, Janacek, and more akin to that of his father-in-law, Dvorak. The tuneful, lush and cinematic character of the four movement work also sounded very English, and especially similar to the music of Richard Rodney Bennett, which is not a debt I recall the recently deceased composer having acknowledged.

Alongside more solo spotlight for Gonley, the work had a prominent role for the evening’s first cello, Su-a Lee, which was always going to be popular with the faithful. There was also a big cheer at the end of the evening for newly signed timpanist Louise Goodwin.