Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Perth Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

OF the many evocations of dawn and the diurnal progress of the sun in Western classical music, it is surprising that Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture is not played more often, at least round these parts. From its low strings and horn beginning, through a masterly build-up to a climactic evocation of light on a landscape, with beautiful writing for the winds, before it comes full-circle to the instrumentation of the start, it is a singularly lovely piece of work.

It is those specific ingredients that make it the ideal piece to preface the Third Symphony of Jean Sibelius, which also begins on the low strings, gives the slow movement melodies to the winds and features a parallel prominent role for the viola section in the run up to a climactic finale of building intensity. There are other elements to enjoy in the symphony, of course, such as its playful approach to triple time and references to the music of earlier eras, and conductor Enrique Mazzola made sure they were all given their moment in the sun as well.

The lightness of touch he demonstrated in the first half was rather less in evidence on Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, but fortunately soloist Vilde Frang was on hand to bring her personality to bear, after an opening that was perhaps not actually that slow, but seemed very deliberate and prematurely portentous.

Frang’s latest recording, out this month, is of Bartok and Enescu, and the Beethoven is a work she deliberately set aside for some years, but she was in utter command of its structure here, even if – in the composer’s rule-breaking way – it is a while before the soloist makes a musical entrance. The Norwegian violinist swept very casually on and off the stage but had the precise measure of the acoustic of the hall in her dynamic and exciting performance. The cadenzas flowed beautifully from her conversation with the orchestra, and the playfulness of the concerto’s last few bars have rarely sounded so perfectly poised.