sat 20/07/2024

Mitchell, Atkins, Johnston, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Mitchell, Atkins, Johnston, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Mitchell, Atkins, Johnston, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

A voyage around Debussy launches the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's 2016 chamber recitals

SCO principal viola Jane Atkins: a natural partnership in Debussy and morePaul Hampton

It was a simple yet beautifully elegant way for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra to kick off its 2016 chamber concerts: a recital for flute, viola and harp, with Debussy’s beguiling Sonata as the centrepiece, and other contrasting music for the same trio orbiting around it.

And it was a similarly sensible decision for the orchestra to spotlight two of its principal players – flautist Alison Mitchell (pictured below) and violist Jane Atkins (main picture) – who joined together in what felt like an entirely unforced, natural partnership, both equally supple in phrasing and tonal variety, alive to each other’s nuances, yet with enough coolness to allow the music to speak for itself. Harpist Eleanor Johnston, however, seemed at times to struggle to match the crisp definition of her colleagues’ playing.

Alison MitchellThings began in a strangely low-key way with a Fauré-esque 1905 Terzettino by Théodore Dubois, predating the Debussy Sonata by ten years, and a million miles away in terms of texture and invention, but given a characterful account nonetheless. Bax’s Elegiac Trio, written just a year after the Debussy but almost certainly entirely unconnected with it, was a Celtic fantasy gently suffused with melancholy – a strangely muted memorial to Bax’s friends who had died in the 1916 Easter Uprising – but performed with sensitivity.

It was in harpist Carlos Salzedo’s transcription of Ravel’s piano Sonatine (as a Sonatine en trio) that the contrasts between the three players became most evident, with Mitchell and Atkins lively and characterful in their invented parts, but Johnston articulating the harp part (at times more or less a reiteration of the piano original) with far less definition, so that much of Ravel’s expressive harmony went unheard, especially in the very brisk opening movement.

Performances were stronger elsewhere, however – in a sensitive, captivating account of Takemitsu’s Emily Dickinson-inspired And then I knew ‘twas Wind… in the first half, and in a second half bound tightly together with bonds of theme and form. First up, Debussy’s Syrinx, a masterclass in atmosphere and tonal control from flautist Mitchell, full-blooded and sharply etched, but fluid nonetheless. Then Richard Rodney Bennett’s 1985 Sonata after Syrinx, taking Debussy’s themes and expanding them across the same trio that the earlier composer had employed for his Sonata. It’s a fascinating piece, recasting Debussy’s soft-edged, introspective turns of phrase as something far more caustic and demanding, and it was given the concert’s most assertive performance, with harpist Johnston settling into some defiant, resonant playing.

It made a hard act for the Debussy Sonata to follow, finally – and maybe it was indeed a mistake to leave the concert’s centrepiece right to the end. Although the threesome’s account had bite and brightness, it stepped back from the thrilling conviction they’d shown in the Rodney Bennett. It was a careful, considered performance, nonetheless, stressing the piece’s classical precision over any soft-focus indulgence, and rounding off what was still a thoughtful, stylish start to the SCO’s 2016 chamber offerings.

Mitchell and Atkins had an unforced, natural partnership, alive to each other’s nuances, yet with enough coolness to allow the music to speak for itself


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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