Late-night Dvořák & Mozart

Serenade in D minor, Op.44
Serenade in B flat, K361 (Gran Partita)

Members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra [Christopher Cowie & Rosie Staniforth (oboes), Maximilliano Martin & Robert Fairley (clarinets), Lawrence Gill & Samuel Hernandez (basset horns), Peter Whelan & Alison Green (bassoons), Gordon Laing (contrabassoon), Alec-Frank Gemmill, Harry Johnstone, Patrick Broderick & Ursula Paludan Monberg (horns), David Watkin (cello) and Nikita Naumov (double bass)]
Douglas Boyd

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 29 July, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Douglas Boyd. Photograph: Hiroyuki ItoThis was the second Prom this year due to have been conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, and featuring repertoire the late conductor held dear. While it would have been a nice touch for the required members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to perform these works without a conductor, the engagement of Douglas Boyd was a completely logical one. A “former oboist” and now a full-time conductor, Boyd’s experience of the inner workings of both works gave him an advantage in bringing out these works’ delightful sonorities.

Dvořák’s Serenade for winds is a particularly attractive work, abundant with melodic invention, as are so many of this composer’s works, but also fully exploiting the capabilities of the players. Boyd’s tempos gave the music room to speak, and we had an enjoyably spiky ‘Dumka’ with which to close, the musicians relishing the music’s exuberance. Clarinettists Maximilliano Martin and Robert Fairley took to the jaunty second theme like ducks to water, whilst in the more tender music of the second movement, oboists Christopher Cowie and Rosie Staniforth took their chance to shine. The heft of the lower strings added a depth that matched the acoustic, the balance secure throughout.

Mozart’s ‘Gran Partita’ stands out as a ‘lot of late night music’, if you like, being his most substantial composition for wind ensemble. From the outset it was clear Boyd and the SCO players had the measure of this work, the introduction having a presence and body that was matched by the exuberance of the first movement’s main theme. Boyd’s aptitude for instrumental balance was clear, the basset horns added a satisfying rasp to the texture without over-intruding, and the bassoons enjoying their prominence in the faster central section of the Adagio. This slower music was the emotional heart, as would be expected, with particularly striking interplay between Cowie, Martin and Lawrence Gill, time seemingly standing still. The two Minuets were gracefully turned, with a real spring in the step, while the Allegretto was enjoyable for the character Boyd brought to each variation.

While these pieces can be performed without a conductor, it was clear that the time Boyd had spent with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra winds had yielded impressive results.

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