Wagner: Siegfried Idyll; Schreker: Chamber Symphony; Fauré: Requiem

Davies, Sampson, Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Ticciati

Usher Hall, 3 April 2011 4 stars

SampsonThursday night's Scottish Chamber Orchestra programme opened with Wagner's Siegfried Idyll, a highly personal symphonic poem written shortly after the birth of Cosima and Richard's son, Siegfried, in 1869. The work shares some melodic material with Wagner's opera Siegfried, particularly the opera's love scene between Siegfried and Brunhilde. In order to appreciate the work fully, one must understand the great love affair between Richard and Cosima. The symphonic poem was, in fact, never intended for public consumption but was rather a gift from a husband to his wife. Robin Ticciati was graceful, even delicate in his conducting, romanticising the work even further as it symbolised an amalgamation of all great love stories. Ticciati highlighted the intimacy of this very private piece, achieving a great balance between swells of passion and soft affection.

Following the Wagner was Franz Schreker's Chamber Symphony. Although once known primarily for opera, the Chamber Symphony is his most performed work today. Influenced by Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner, Schreker's broadly tonal work explores a sea of sound. Not unlike a classic film score, it begins with a quietly mysterious air and quickly moves into the main action. Reoccurring patterns of melodic material tie the loose Allegro, Adagio, and Scherzo ideas into one large movement. In fact, the continuous process of thematic transformation makes it difficult to find a centre or an end to the work.

The performance was a fine one as the orchestra responded well to Ticciati's subtle conducting, the conductor blending into the orchestra well, almost disappearing into the sounds cape at various points. But although the piece began promisingly, it failed to captivate. It was a rather disappointing choice sandwiched between the Wagner and the Fauré, which shone much more brightly. Something with more of a contrast, particularly after the romantic Siegfried Idyll, would have perhaps worked better in the programme.

The highlight of the evening was the headliner, Fauré's Requiem, a work that surprisingly did not gain popularity until the 1950's. Since then, it has often been described as a 'Requiem without the Last Judgement' due to its gentle and unassuming nature. Fauré once said that he saw death "as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards the happiness of the hereafter, rather than as a painful passing away."

The SCO Chorus began with a solemnly beautiful Introit et Kyrie. Neal Davies displayed a rich Baritone in the Offertoire, which was followed by the dream-like Sanctus. But the standouts, by far, were Fauré's unique additions to the Requiem; the motet Pie Jesu and the final In Paradisum. Carolyn Sampson's radiant and angelic soprano in the Pie Jesu was mesmerising.

The strings in the Agnus Dei at first begin to overtake the chorus but they soon found their balance. Sonorous swelling in the brass led the climax into the Libera Me. Pizzicato then propelled the work forward with crescendos in the winds that lead to the final In Paradisum. The hypnotic finale captured the piece as it ended serenely and modestly, the chorus quietly bringing the Requiem to a close. Ticciati once again became one with the orchestra, never overpowering, never overbearing. His understated style of conducting complemented the rich sonorities of the SCO, not to mention the ethereal brilliance of the SCO chorus; a style that was very effective for the evening’s programme.

By Theresa Steward

Photo: Carolyn Sampson

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