fri 01/12/2023

Ridout, SCO, Manze, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh review - sensual mystery and searing intensity | reviews, news & interviews

Ridout, SCO, Manze, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh review - sensual mystery and searing intensity

Ridout, SCO, Manze, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh review - sensual mystery and searing intensity

Welcome return for an imaginative programmer of British music from Dowland to Clyne

Viola-player Timothy Ridout: self-effacing in Vaughan Williams, searing in BrittenKaupo Kikkas

The programme for this concert had Andrew Manze’s fingerprints all over it. Of all the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s semi-regular guest conductors, he’s the one who most consistently delivers on the highest level. A thinker to his fingertips, he constructs programmes as intelligently as he plays them.

So what a wonderful idea to begin with music by Grace Williams and end with music by her teacher, Ralph Vaughan Williams. I wasn't familiar with Grace Williams’ music before this concert, but even if you didn’t know the connection you could hear some of RVW’s influence in the way she uses a string orchestra in her Sea Sketches. Indeed, you can almost sense the buzzing of RVW’s The Wasps in Grace’s rippling waves, and there’s a dusky, autumnal tinge to the string sound the even carries hints of Finzi. She’s no one’s imitator, though, and her five sea pictures are masterpieces of variety, the calmer moments inhabiting a quiet melancholy, while the faster movements swirl like a dangerous perpetuum mobile. Andrew ManzeIt’s a world away from the sensual mystery of RVW’s Flos Campi, but both were played with exquisite delicacy by the reduced forces of the SCO, the air around the sound as important a part of the experience as the actual notes. Manze (pictured above by Benjamin Ealovega) shaped the sound to perfection, everything expertly integrated. The singers of the SCO Chorus got the tone just right, by turns rich, alluring or ardent; and Timothy Ridout’s viola surged in and out of the texture in a way that brought it to life without drawing attention to himself.

You could say that last aspect is part of a violist’s job description, but Ridout was very much the centre of attention in a searing performance of Britten’s Lachrymae that treated Britten’s Dowland variations like a revolving kaleidoscope of expression. Expression, but not of colour: there was a dusky-grey hue over the whole sound picture as though to reinforce the darkness of both the music and the mood; but Ridout and Manze conspired with the SCO strings to create something that moved from dark shuddering and detached melancholy through swirling drama and histrionic intensity. That they preceded it with an arrangement of the song that inspired Britten, Dowland’s If my complaints could passions move, added to the focused intensity of the listening experience. Anna ClynePerhaps surprisingly, the thing on the programme that came closes to relaxed listening was The Years, a new work from Anna Clyne (pictured above by Christine Kernohan). She’s the SCO’s Associate Composer, and for this choral cycle she collaborated with poet Stephanie Fleischmann to create a reflection on the passing of time, inspired partly by the experience of lockdown. Clyne’s response to the poetry is warm, tonal and accessible. The poems flow into one another but in different ways, mirroring the experience of time: we all have the same 24 hours, but it goes as slowly or as quickly as any individual’s experience.

The musical textures are appealing and melodic, and its overall atmosphere is appealing; but something about it didn’t grab me. Several of Clyne’s previous works have really forced me to listen, but this one seemed to be happening almost in the background. The gentleness of the overall tone made it diverting rather than gripping, and Clyne seemed to use a rather limited musical palette which made the music a touch repetitious in places. By the time we got to the end of the musical journey, I wasn’t convinced we’d really travelled all that far.

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