Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.6 in F, Op.68 (Pastoral)
Veronika Eberle (violin)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 13 November, 2012
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
An attractive programme but a concert of two halves, the first culminating in an exceptionally satisfying performance of Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto. What was never in doubt is that the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is one of very best of its kind in the World. Robin Ticciati is Principal Conductor of the SCO, Principal Guest Conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, and Music Director designate at Glyndebourne. Whilst there is little doubt as to his innate musicality, on the evidence of this concert, one questions whether this much success at such a young age has perhaps resulted in too much being expected of him too soon.
However, Siegfried Idyll was undoubtedly impressive not only for care over dynamics but also for a sense of the music emerging from a reverie, almost as though breathed out of a deep slumber. Despite initially relaxed tempos, each paragraph moved seamlessly into the next and there was full weight to the string sound in the brief climaxes. Elsewhere tenderness and restraint were the order of the day. There were some fine individual contributions, notably Alec Frank-Gemmill’s horn-call framed by Alison Mitchell’s woodbird-flute capering gaily around.
Even better was the Mendelssohn. Despite a few rough edges this was outstanding. All too often this concerto is treated as a showpiece for violinists. Veronika Eberle took some risks – the extremely relaxed lead into the first movement’s tranquillo second subject and the full-on Presto with which the same movement ends – but, despite her flexibility, she made a very real effort to play and – above all – to phrase what Mendelssohn wrote, with ear-catching results. The highlight was the expansive account of the Andante, possibly too relaxed but deliciously stylish, the main theme at the reprise infinitely tender and subtly varied by comparison with its initial appearance.
Would that the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony had been in the same class, for although this was a reading that made all the right noises (repeats observed, the use of antiphonal violins, and with some remarkably polished playing) it somehow failed to add up, not least in comparison with Charles Mackerras’s revelatory account in the Usher Hall with the same forces some years ago.
Reservations, as so often in Beethoven, centred on tempo – here hurried and jollied along throughout – and a reluctance to call a spade a spade. It was like observing a landscape where fields with awkward clumps of thistles are replaced by well-manicured lawns. In the real country one relishes its sights and smells, not afraid to get one’s feet dirty. From Ticciati, we were presented with an idealised but ultimately bland landscape, particularly noticeable in the three linked movements which form the work’s culmination: the Peasant’s Merrymaking cut short by a Storm of incredible force which brings us close to Nature’s raw power and leads to a hymn of thanksgiving; music of rare power and spirituality which can – as here – all-too-easily seem merely trivial if not infused with a palpable sense of joy and relief. Lacking a firm underlying pulse, the final movement limped to a rather tame conclusion rather than forming a natural culmination.