sun 16/06/2024

Dennis, SCO, Whelan, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh review - period touches and classical sparkle | reviews, news & interviews

Dennis, SCO, Whelan, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh review - period touches and classical sparkle

Dennis, SCO, Whelan, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh review - period touches and classical sparkle

Two popular guests return to the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 18th century repertoire

Peter Whelan: from SCO bassoonist to conductor and harpsichordJen Owens

Peter Whelan is best known to Scottish audiences from his years of service as principal bassoon in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

He left to pursue other projects several years ago, the most illustrious of which has probably been his work with the Irish Baroque Orchestra and his own Ensemble Marsyas, both of which demonstrate his interest in and flair for the music of the Baroque and Classical periods.

He returned to the SCO on Thursday night, but on the podium rather than in the band, and his expertise in period performance lit up a really exciting performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 102. It was this one, not the misnamed “Miracle”, No. 96, where the crowd at the first performance pushed forward so enthusiastically to see the composer that nobody was hurt when the hall’s chandelier crashed to the floor. No. 102 is one of the least heard of the composer’s “London” symphonies, but a performance like this leaves you wondering why. The slow introduction was shaped with painstaking care before a main Allegro that really benefited from the extra colour lent by period brass. The natural timpani, in particular, added explosive brilliance to the climaxes, and gave an extra edge to the pastoral warmth of the slow second movement, coloured by a beautifully played solo cello from Philip Higham. The bucolic swagger of the Menuet was balanced by a butter-wouldn’t-melt Trio, and the finale had the light-hearted energy of a puppy chasing its tail. It’s no wonder that first night audience were pushing forward so vigorously.

Anna DennisIt turns out Whelan is also a dab hand at the harpsichord, and his continuo playing added a little extra sparkle to C P E Bach’s F major Symphony. The busy vivacity of its first movement reinforces how much of a musical chameleon this composer is, with a new vista around virtually every corner, and the playing of the orchestra met that with a varied palette of sound. The lack of vibrato underlined the oaky textures of the strings, splendidly so in the central Larghetto, and their blend with the curling winds paid rich dividends in the finale.

Anna Dennis (pictured left by Jet) is another favourite guest with the SCO, and her gorgeous soprano gave two Mozart arias a Rolls Royce performance for which their relative obscurity would rarely qualify them. Hers is a voice of effortless beauty, her singing filling the Queen’s Hall with its effortless richness. It’s ripe across the range, only occasionally showing a little pressure at the quietest moments of the (admittedly very exposed) top line of Vorrei spiegarvi but, nevertheless, it’s a voice I’d travel to hear any night of the week. Whelan and the orchestra also paid these arias the great honour of taking them seriously. Vorrei spiegarvi sees Mozart at his very sweetest with its long, sentimental oboe line and strings with the soft textures of a Watteau painting. Nehmt meinen Dank, on the other hand, was much more sparky, as befits an artist’s farewell to her public. How lovely that, rather than bidding farewell, it served to welcome back two much loved musical guests to share the SCO stage. Come back soon!

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