Although more commonly played in a version for full orchestra rather than for chamber ensemble, this recording of Siegfried Idyll is closer to Wagner's premiere performance, a birthday gift to his wife, Cosima. Ticciati and the larger string forces of the SCO skilfully enhance the richer tone of the work's radiant beauty. Robin Ticciati has had an impressive start to his recording career with the SCO, with two critically acclaimed recordings of Berlioz.
2014 sees Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra embark upon their first symphonic cycle with the release of the first four Schumann Symphonies in September 2014.
Sir Charles Mackerras, the SCO's Conductor Laureate until his passing in 2010, made numerous award-winning recordings including BBC Music Magazine's 2010 ‘Disc of the Year' recording, ‘Mozart Symphonies 38-41', on which this impressive performance of Symphony No 41 features. Awarding the recording five stars, The Sunday Times described it as ‘possibly their finest record to date … I don't know more enthralling accounts of the Jupiter on disc.'
As Principal Conductor of the SCO from 1996 to 2005 Joseph Swensen made five thrilling recordings in all, encompassing Brahms, Mendelssohn, Dvořák, Prokofiev and Sibelius. Composed when Sibelius was reaching the climax of his career, the ambitious second Suite from The Tempest contains some of his most inspired ideas and finest music; it is a mouth-watering addition to this program.
Forty years on, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra remains the youngest and freshest of our major Scotland-based ensembles and the days before its existence still lie well within living memory. Even at forty, however, it’s not an orchestra people are likely to describe as an ‘institution’, or to say, with perhaps a faint air of disdain, that they have heard it before and that it is time to move on. To hear the SCO is—as always—to feel alive and be ready for surprises.
Having toured Eastern Europe and appeared for the first (though by no means the last) time at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, the SCO was already winning international plaudits by the late 1970s. At home, its tours of the Highlands and Borders were greatly savoured. When, finally, the SCO and its original conductor Roderick Brydon were invited to make their Edinburgh International Festival debut in 1979, they had the effervescent James Galway as soloist in music by J S Bach and Nielsen, and a new piece by the English composer Gordon Crosse was commissioned by the Festival for the occasion.
Over the years, bonds were made with artfully-chosen conductors and soloists. A young Simon Rattle exploded the Eroica Symphony in the thrillingly close acoustics of The Queen’s Hall. Mitsuko Uchida directed, with incomparable finesse, Mozart piano concertos from the keyboard. Gidon Kremer, who had been hailed by Herbert von Karajan as the greatest violinist alive, performed Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, transforming the slow movement of ‘Winter’ into the sweetest of travel music, amid which you could swear you heard the chiming of sleigh-bells. James Conlon, soon to emerge as one of America’s star conductors, brought zest and wit to a chamber-sized performance of Haydn’s Creation, with the new SCO Chorus, at the Usher Hall. Trevor Pinnock transformed the players, whom he directed from the harpsichord, into a bunch of the finest Bach exponents. Paul Sacher, the world’s most discerning patron of modern music, came at the age of eighty to conduct Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta and Stravinsky’s Concerto in Re for Strings, two works he had commissioned years earlier for his own Basel Chamber Orchestra.
But not only did the SCO perform music that was beginning to lie outside the weighty symphonic repertoire, the players were encouraged to bring their own special voice to works that could now be said to belong to anybody. Brahms was stripped by Charles Mackerras of its heavy ballast of bass tone, and real lucidity brought to Schumann, a composer symphony orchestras tend to despise as maladroit. Peter Maxwell Davies, as Scotland’s resident Orcadian, wrote his own cycle of Brandenburg-style concertos for members of the SCO, which he called the Strathclyde Concertos and which he conducted himself. A new work, Ebb of Winter, has been written by him for the Orchestra’s fortieth anniversary.
Thanks to an astute series of managing directors, from the raffish Australian Michael Storrs onwards, the SCO flourished fast. New names replaced older ones so seamlessly that each season became a study in inspired continuity. Charles Mackerras, bringing his personal brand of authenticity to everything he touched, bestowed a set of natural horns upon the orchestra, thereby striking a high-tension balance between period Beethoven and modern Beethoven. Ivor Bolton passed through, yet as an SCO musical director who departed almost before he had arrived, he left an indelible imprint. Just watch his Salzburg Festival DVD of Handel’s Theodora with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and you will see why.
And now, thanks to the present day management team overseen by Chief Executive Roy McEwan and strong encouragement from all the players in the Orchestra, we have Robin Ticciati. He is one of the most exciting young conductors in the world today, who has brought Berlioz and Schumann gloriously within the Orchestra’s scope. Whether to the desolation of the little-known Tristia, or to the semi-chamber version of the Symphonie fantastique which was fascinatingly linked with it, he brings not only a ravishingly soft finesse but also a quality of what can only be called stealth, which suits the music to perfection.
In Mozart, too, Ticciati has proven his worth, succeeding Mackerras’s famous Festival performance of Don Giovanni (recorded at the Usher Hall) with a no less enthralling concert performance of his own devising. That’s continuity for you—and of the choicest sort.
So what now? Happily, we shall be having musical revelations from Ticciati for several years yet, but we can be sure that when this already much sought after young maestro finally departs he will be succeeded by a talent similarly enticing. Meanwhile, by the looks of things, he is being encouraged to perform almost whatever he desires. That is how it should be, and it’s the perfect reflection of SCO philosophy.
Conrad Wilson ©