Music review:The Herald Scotland/ Scottish Chamber Orchestra/ Beethoven VC Usher Hall
With an all Beethoven programme, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra with soloist Nicola Benedetti gave a balanced and insightful performance of three of the composer’s works on Thursday evening. Opening with Leonore Overture No 1, one of no less than four possible overtures penned by the composer for his only opera, Fidelio, the orchestra displayed a mature, polished sound, if a little safe, under conductor Emeritus Joseph Swensen.
Moving on to Beethoven’s fourth symphony, a work often overshadowed by those symphonies on either side of it, the SCO’s sensitive portrayal of the music continued. Emerging with a sombre gravity, the dark, brooding string melodies of the opening adagio gave an air of intrigue to the piece. Carefully shaping this meaty symphony, Swensen deftly led the orchestra through Beethoven’s stark contrasts between pastoral lyricism and charged, fiery bursts of passion. The penultimate movement had a rocking, almost jaunty feel, before Swensen rounded off the symphony with a tight and punchy flourish.
The second half saw Benedetti give a stunning performance of Beethoven’s only violin concerto. This is an artist who exudes star quality; her exquisite playing, combining true virtuosity and a deep musical intelligence made this a memorable performance. Benedetti’s intimate understanding of the work is evident, with her compelling playing seemingly guiding the orchestra through Beethoven’s vivid musical landscape. Her dazzling cadenzas filled the hall, perhaps most notably in the first movement, before the orchestra behind her stealthily re-entered the scene with softly cushioned pizzicatos. The main theme of the final Rondo seemed to take on a different guise each time it was heard, as the orchestra constantly refreshed and reinvigorated the music.