Scottish Ensemble

Purcell
Chacony in G minor
Mozart
Divertimento in F, K138
Woolrich
Capriccio [World premiere]
Stravinsky
Concerto in D

Scottish Ensemble
Jonathan Morton (violin & director)


Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 10 August, 2009
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

A musically invigorating hour in the company of the Scottish Ensemble had as its centrepiece the world premiere of a new work for violin and strings by John Woolrich. While the title Capriccio offers a composer an amount of expressive freedom, it often suggests a more playful, incidental piece – and that was emphatically not the case here.

In a brief interview beforehand the Scottish Ensemble’s leader, and soloist, Jonathan Morton admitted the ink was barely dry on the page, the players only fully glimpsing the finished work a week prior to the performance. That they were so secure technically is a tribute in itself, the single span, 15-minute piece unfolding instinctively. Such freshness helped also to catch the atmosphere of the Outer Hebrides, where Woolrich composed the piece.

What is effectively a concerto unfolded as a conflict of two elements – the strongly rhythmic figures presented by the ensemble in blocks and the more lyrical style of writing often assigned to the soloist. The former passages had impressively supple textures, while Morton projected his part well, standing slightly forward of the eleven-piece group. Most effective of all was the keenly judged silence that follows the climactic, fraught interplay, which signals a moving postlude in which the violin sings softly over pizzicato strings, the music dying away rather like a Hebridean sunset.

Woolrich’s work contrasted with the ‘lighter’ music by Purcell and Mozart. A feature of these performances was the brisk tempos adopted, though the Ensemble was careful to reveal the music’s intricacies. In the Purcell, cleanliness of sound was supplemented by a nice lilt to the triple meter, while the Mozart had a youthful freshness that was capped by a vigorous finale, the use of vibrato economical throughout.

In its performance of Stravinsky’s Concerto for Strings the Scottish Ensemble revealed the work’s balletic qualities, particularly in the central ‘Arioso’, music choreographed by Jerome Robbins in his 1951 work “The Cage”, and which made an interesting adjunct to the Proms’ exploration this season of Stravinsky’s ballets. From the Scottish Ensemble the finale was effectively robust, like the first movement blending kinetic energy with short bursts of lyricism. The musicians’ playing was first class, their conviction with Stravinsky’s rhythms and counterpoint most impressive, and frequent smiles indicated the enjoyment brought to them by this music.

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