Scottish Chamber Orchestra

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

ONE of the largest audiences the City Hall has seen for the SCO this season was hopefully mirrored at the three other venues where Elisabeth Leonskaya played Beethoven’s Fifth “Emperor” Piano Concerto in what will undoubtedly be a highlight of the year’s music.

With German conductor Clemens Schuldt, the better part of forty years her junior, on the podium, this was a masterclass in pianism – and partnership with the ensemble, just as the composer intended. Schuldt was very attentive to his soloist and the players equally responsive, so that the key moment of transition into the finale – explicitly identified as such on the score by Beethoven – was as exquisitely realised as one might wish.

The tonal variation Leonskaya produced from the Steinway over the course of the work was often astonishing, while her big “stride” left hand, as a jazz player would identify it, was always in perfect balance and dialogue with her superbly articulate right. Although Leonskaya is the opposite of demonstrative, here was a performance of passion as well as precision that was faithful to every detail of the score.

The central movement of the concerto sets a template for much music that followed, while the 20th century music we heard before the interval looked backwards. In the case of Prokofiev’s Symphony No1 that is to Mozart, Haydn and, indeed, Beethoven, not in any way pastiche but certainly playfully, while the Gavotte in the middle prefigures his own ballet scores.

The Chamber Symphony of Shostakovich, on the other hand – an arrangement of his Eighth Quartet by Rudolf Barshai – reviews the composer’s own musical career, with much reference to his personal “signature” and quotations from earlier works. What precisely Shostakovich was saying in 1960 by this is as open to interpretation as just about everything else in his catalogue, but with leader Stephanie Gonley on top form as the main solo voice, the richly sonorous ensemble of the SCO strings was profoundly moving.