As a classical music amateur, I was completely blown away by the talented musicians, but often wondered whether I was missing some of the more nuanced musical intricacies. Featuring two pieces by Beethoven followed by two symphonies by Sibelius, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra don’t so much as fuse, but play consecutively classical music from neighbouring centuries.
At first glance, these choices appear quite disjointed, but by the interval, the change from Beethoven’s style into Sibelius is very refreshing. Beginning with a short and punchy Beethoven Coriolan Overture, we are immediately struck by the resonating first note played together by the orchestra. Their sound is rich and warm, the instruments all rising and falling together through the piece’s dynamics. It is clearly well-rehearsed and to my untrained ear, I believe that not a note was out of place. With just a taste of the orchestra’s potential, we wait for them to play again.
Transitions between pieces were disappointingly cumbersome. The meditative lull over the audience that the music had created was unwelcomingly broken by the shifting around of instruments. Once in place, the audience’s mutterings subsided to give way to Beethoven’s piano concerto No.2 in B-flat and conductor Joseph Swenson, regained complete control of the auditorium.
Pianist Paul Lewis effortlessly flutters his fingers along the keys, lightly carrying the trills. He plays without a score, accenting his movements with flourishes, making his centre-stage performance all the more absorbing to watch. Much of the astounding triple encore at the interval can be attributed to Lewis’ dexterity and grace at the piano.
Despite the clear talent of the orchestra, there was a part of me that was not quite satisfied by the time the interval came about. Unsure of what I was missing, I hoped to find a deeper emotional response to the music in the second act.
Joined by a reinforced brass and wind section, Sibelius’ Symphony No. 6 in 4 movements is a thoroughly engaging way to begin the second act. This being my personal favourite of all, I finally felt the spine-chilling effects of the music. As the strings rose together and then gave way to the flautists, I was moved. This hairs-on-end feeling was what I was looking for in the music all along. The audience also appeared riveted by the piece, barely moving throughout and then erupting into applause as Swenson turned to face us. His animated movements were wonderful to watch. The music radiated through his dance-like conduction.
The final Sibelius symphony appeared to me to lack variation from the first. I hoped for a more contrasting final piece, often having to guide my thoughts back into the room and pay better attention to the music.
Nevertheless, the evening was undoubtedly impressive. Even as a classical music layman, moments of this concert certainly moved me. Though I couldn’t always find exactly the desired emotion to complement the music, I am definitely going to make a new Spotify playlist dedicated to Beethoven and Sibelius…
In 2 surprisingly quickly-passing hours, the classical genre has grown on me.
PHOTO: Usher Hall
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