Scottish Chamber Orchestra

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

ILLNESS having kept him from the podium for much of his final year as the SCO’s Principal Conductor, this bold programme was almost like a second season-opener for Robin Ticciati and it was a cracker that deserved a fuller house.

The unfamiliar name of JF Rebel might sound as if it comes from New York in the 1980s rather than the court of Louis XV, and his astonishing ten-movement Les Elemens begins with a chord that would gladden any avant-garde experimentalist. The rhythm section boosted by guitar and theorbo, and much of the orchestra standing, bird call was added to the mix from the balcony in what was a feast of musical colour with the piccolos of Bronte Hudnott and Alison Mitchell to the fore, some lightening-fingered bassoon work and just as nimble playing from the fiddles later on. A rare treat.

So too was the opportunity to see principal viola Jane Atkins at the front of the stage as soloist for Martinu’s Rhapsody-Concerto. Also full of colour, the music was beautifully served by her sonorous playing, in perfect balance with the orchestra, particularly in the glorious cinematic slow central movement as well as in the cadenzas that followed.

More Czech folk melodies are harnessed in Dvorak’s ten Biblical Songs, setting texts from the Psalms, including some of the best known like 23 and 121. The fullness of Karen Cargill’s wonderful mezzo, so strong in mid-register, is exactly what these simple, direct melodies require and again the balance was absolutely perfect, with the atmospheric scoring of the eighth, setting Psalm 25, by Vilem Zemanek, even surpassing the composer’s own work on the first five songs.

Haydn’s fizzing “Miracle” Symphony, No 96, was the perfect conclusion to this superb feast of music, Ticciati absolutely in command of its narrative with an exquisite transition into the Vivace finale.