Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Edusei

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

FOR the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the loss of one of its regular stable of guest conductors for the first concert of its cycle of Beethoven symphonies to mark the composer’s 250th birthday was potentially a bit of a disaster, particularly as it had contrived to be first out of the blocks for the celebrations on its home turf. However, the illness of Emmanuel Krivine became an opportunity for an introduction to Kevin John Edusei, the tall, elegant chief conductor of the Munich Symphony Orchestra who has just completed an acclaimed European tour with the Chineke! Orchestra and violinist Elena Orioste.

In what can only have been a very tight rehearsal schedule, Edusei and the SCO produced accounts of the First and Third Symphonies which were assuredly very different from the approach we would have heard from Krivine and memorable in specific details. Whether those were overly ostentatious may be a question that the many in the hall already very familiar with these works will be debating well into the anniversary year itself.

With the four basses lined up above and behind the rest of the musicians, the balance of the strings in the hall was particularly good, and while the SCO is currently carrying a number of vacancies in key positions in the winds, when the first bassoon is a player of the calibre of a returning Ursula Leveaux, there could be no complaints.

Edusei began the Symphony No.1 in a surprisingly languid fashion but that served only to draw attention to the singular choice of opening chord and heighten the energy of the music as the pace increased. The stately dance music of the second movement that points the way towards the later symphonies gave way to an approach very brisk indeed by the start of the finale.

For the “Eroica”, Edusei made the opening two chords seem almost perfunctory in what was surely a deliberate echo of the start of the First, but the coherence of the low strings was then the first of sequence of ear-catching details in a performance that illustrated how far the composer had travelled in three years.The contrast between the big orchestral sound of the funeral march and the chamber music delicacy of the front desk string quartet was beautifully balanced.