Webern: Im Sommerwind; Brahms: Double Concerto A minor, Op. 102; Strauss Don Quixote, Op. 35

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/ Paul Daniel

Usher Hall, 5 September 2009 4.5 stars

Jan vogler by Sasha GusovWebern's very early Im Sommerwind opened the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra concert with its lush, dreamy sound supported by waves of sweet violin solos. Webern’s focus on the strings created a rich, warm and yet gentle tone, producing many romantic themes. The wind section also excelled in solos while the smaller brass section allowed for a larger focus on the softly purring strings. Donald Runnicles brought Webern's tone-poem to life fluently; he is perfect in his role as a Romantic conductor with large, sweeping gestures, and he pays particular attention to solo work.

The meatier Brahms' Double Concerto was absolutely delightful. Violinist Baiba Skride and Cellist Jan Vogler had great musical chemistry on stage, playing off each other wonderfully throughout the duet sequences. The violin sang nearly infallibly with clean lines, never faltering. Skride gesticulated quite a bit when playing but this only added to the energetic performance rather than distracting from the music. At times, the cello was a little difficult to discern but Vogler played beautifully romantic lines. Great eye contact and movement between Skride and Vogler made the concerto a true collaboration. Some double-stops suffered slight intonation trouble, but other than that it was seamless, especially as the second movement beautifully transitioned into the energetic Vivace finale.

Although the Brahms was decidedly enjoyable, it was the Strauss that proved to be the entertaining climax of the evening. The final piece was Richard Strauss' tone-poem, Don Quixote. It was absolutely stunning, an almost visual performance in itself. Vogler returned as solo cellist, portraying the role of the Don. His yearning cello melodies, particularly toward the end of the piece as the old Don finally regains his sanity, were extremely moving. First violinist Elizabeth Layton also supported the themes of the titular role in a softer, quieter manner. Violist Scott Dickinson was superb as he rendered the chatty squire, Sancho Panza. In fact, all of the soloists excelled. Amidst the sweeping dissonances of various characters along the Don's journey, the brilliant solo work from the violin, viola, clarinet, the bass, and the tuba, to name a few, emerged as not only wonderfully placed moments of melodic ingenuity, but also helped to define the tempestuous nature of the storyline by often contrasting against a sea of dissonance, illuminating characters that could have easily been lost among the chaos of Don Quixote's insanity. Runnicles was fabulous and extremely charismatic as conductor. He painted such vivid scenes of Don Quixote’s adventures that one didn’t even need the programme to know which scene was being depicted.

Overall, this was a very solid performance by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It was hard to find fault with this programme. The transition from the lushness of the Webern to the romantic and yet Baroque-inspired Brahms, and then to Strauss' highly energetic early tone-poem work, provided a highly entertaining evening. Nothing too heavy, just pleasurable scenes of musical brilliance – a nice break in the Edinburgh International Festival programme.

By Theresa Steward

Photo: Jan vogler by Sasha Gusov

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