Scottish Chamber Orchestra

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce, four stars

WITH an American conductor and soloist and two American composers in the programme, the clichéd expectation would be of a sassy, swaggering evening, when in fact this programme was quite a concentrated, intense experience that deserved a better attendance than the competing attractions of the season perhaps influenced. Interestingly – especially given her up-coming schedule of big music on both sides of the Atlantic – conductor Karina Canellakis seems very interested in the possibilities of the chamber orchestra, reconfiguring the usual layout by placing the winds at the front for Schubert’s lovely Fifth Symphony, a work that matches the best of Mozart in the tune department.

Barber’s Violin Concerto spends much of its time looking back to that era, and only really steps into the soundworld of the 20th century in the last movement. Young violinist Benjamin Beilman explored that narrative with commanding authority, making light work its technical demands. Given the other approaches Canellakis used during the concert, it was notable that the balance between Beilman and the ensemble was pretty much perfect throughout, but of course she is a fine violinist herself.

Opening the concert, John Adams’s Son of Chamber Symphony, just a decade old, both paved the way for the Barber and mirrored the Schubert as a work specifically composed for smaller forces, as well as showcasing the talent of individual soloists in the orchestra. There is always something showbiz about Adams’s music and this piece is no exception – the composer is happily incapable of appearing po-faced – making an ideal last-minute contribution by the SCO to the celebrations of his 70th birthday year. That the band and conductor were as comfortable with contemporary repertoire as with the Schubert hopefully suggests that this is a relationship that will be regularly renewed.