Festival Music

Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Usher Hall

Martin Kershaw

four stars

BEETHOVEN'S Leonore Overture no. 3 made for a stirring start – conductor Jukka-Pekka Saraste firmly grasping the reins from the outset and the SCO responding with inspiring alacrity. They romped through it with obvious relish and unflagging energy, as if discovering this familiar work for the first time.

And so a brief pause whilst the stage was re-set for Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto. And then another pause. And then an embarrassed announcement informing us that the delay was due to "a small technical problem". The mind boggled. What "technical problem" could there be at an acoustic concert which was not being broadcast? Whatever it was, pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin eventually emerged to give us an excellent account of the Chopin – unfussy, concise and lucid, with only a couple of tiny missteps in the Larghetto and closing Allegro Vivace movements to betray any hint of pre-performance issues. The orchestra for its part provided the ideal accompaniment, unfailingly assertive and supportive as required.

Sibelius’s Symphony no. 3 brought the concert to a conclusion, and it was a delight. There’s so much variety in the writing, and the SCO negotiated every change of texture, dynamic and tempo with uplifting confidence. The strings were especially impressive – that first movement is quite a work out (particularly for the violas) but they were more than equal to the task. And the lovely, almost chorale-like sectional writing of the Andante con moto was rendered with wonderful grace and depth of understanding. The final movement was all power and triumph; majestic horns, churning strings, pounding timpani all united towards an ending whose abruptness was perhaps responsible for a less rapturous response than the performance deserved.