Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Alstaedt

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

IF Friday’s performance of Schubert’s Symphony No.4, the “Tragic”, by the SCO under the lively direction of cellist Nicholas Alstaedt, ultimately seemed to lack a little sparkle, that was probably because the conductor himself had set the bar very high earlier in the evening. The fluctuating mood of this youthful work can be hard to pull off, and here the bounce of the third movement scherzo was followed by a slightly flat finale, although brightened by the fine flute playing of Andre Cebrian.

The symphony had begun in fine style, however, with an opening that was clearly intended to chime with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, which had started the concert. This quintessential compact work by this year’s birthday boy has a drama that is enhanced by being played by small forces, and that also very much applies to the Cello Concerto No.1 by Dmitri Shostakovich.

The animated Alstaedt directed this from the only podium he employed all night, turning from his soloist’s position to cue the orchestra, with the cello’s instrumental foil, first horn Huw Jones, positioned beside him.

From the composer’s signature four-note phrase and the dialogue with the reed instruments in the first movement onwards, this was a performance of a 20th century classic of the first order. With great work by Alison Green on double bassoon and guest principal clarinet Nicholas Cox, the playing of Alstaedt himself was outstanding. His harmonics in partnership with Peter Evans’s celeste and command of all the techniques required in the compelling third movement cadenza made for a reading with all the drama anyone would desire.

This was a programme that leapt effortlessly over 150 years of composition, completed by Gyorgy Ligeti’s Ramifications from 1968, for a small string group divided into two sections, tuned a quarter-tone apart. In a way this is the Hungarian doing with pitch what minimalist Steve Reich began with rhythm around the same time, dissonance leading to some tonal surprises, rather than any resolution. The SCO’s bassist Nikita Naumov is the man you want on your team for the bass part that its conclusion turns on.

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