Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Manze

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

BY a quirk of the past year’s orchestral programming in Scotland, there have been more opportunities to hear Beethoven’s Symphony No.4 than almost any of the other eight. In the second of the SCO’s concerts of all of them, anticipating the composer’s 250th anniversary next year, it sat in the middle of the programme, with the Second and Fifth on either side, and Andrew Manze conducting. Manze knows his Beethoven, both as a violinist and as a conductor, and is currently in the midst of a piano concerto recording project with a Berlin orchestra. His account of the Fourth seemed to draw out its lyrical and melodic content particularly well, although there was a moment of uncertainty at the end of the third movement. The Second, which is just as sunny a work, had flowed seamlessly from start to finish, and is certainly best heard by the compact ensemble that is a chamber orchestra.

With more players added for the Fifth after the interval, the distinction between the SCO and its peers was less apparent. The increased muscle in the music was welcome, but those hoping for a radical take on one of the best-known works in the canon may have been disappointed. Manze set the SCO players no new challenges in his account of the Fifth, and the rhythmic invention of the finale repeats, which conductors can choose to interpret in so many subtly different ways, failed to bring me to the edge of my seat as I always want them to do.

It may be sacrilege to say so, and the composer himself famously created much larger concerts, but three symphonies is a lot of Beethoven at once. Having now played more than half of them before 2020 has even begun, has the SCO perhaps shot its bolt for recognition in the big birthday year?