Here was another splendidly curated programme of Czech rarities to cheer us up during this pandemic. It was an ingenious mix of Czech music for small ensembles, demonstrating the two qualities that stand out in that country’s repertoire: rhythmic buoyancy and fertility of melodic invention. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, operating without a conductor, got to the heart of the matter in every piece.

Members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
© Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Dvořák’s Miniatures Op.75a for string trio are particularly inspired. Composed for a student who was lodging with the composer and his family, it proved a little too technically challenging so the composer never finished it. However, when it comes to Dvořák even chippings off the master's bench are more often than not masterpieces. The three soloists were pleasingly sweet-toned in the opening Cavatina and pert in the lively Capriccio movement. The final Elegy was taken slowly, which made it sound all the more poignant.

Nothing of the composer Hans Krása’s tragic life finds a voice in his most celebrated work, the children’s opera Brundibár. The work was most performed 55 times in Theresienstadt in 1943 where Krása was imprisoned before being sent to Auschwitz to be murdered in 1944. Composed in 1938, it is a work of great charm and deceptive simplicity with echoes of Kurt Weill and Martinů, particularly the latter’s splendid ballet Špalíček. The SCO, playing a seven movement suite from the opera for a reduced ensemble, were affectionate and generous in their interpretation, visibly moved by the touching Serenade at its core. 

Louise Goodwin
© Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Pavel Haas who was still developing as a composer when he was arrested and imprisoned by the Nazis in 1941. He carried on composing until 1944 in terrible circumstances. His Second String Quartet was written in happier times in 1925. As a pupil of Janáček, Haas has been criticised for sounding too much like his teacher and passages of this work certainly sound very similar to the older composer’s quartets. However, Haas had his own voice and the overall atmosphere of the final movement that was played here was uniquely playful and skittish, with a distinctive melancholy at its centre. The other distinguishing feature was inclusion of a percussionist who adds a jazzy and humorous touch to the proceedings. The playing of the SCO ensemble was again exemplary, everyone seeming to enjoy exploring this unusual repertoire.

When you hear the opening bars of Martinů's early ballet Le Revue de Cuisine, you are instantly transported into a truly individual and potent musical mind. In this, his most popular early work, Martinů found just the right balance of catchy rhythmic subtlety matched by brilliant thematic material. The suite of four movements played here included a distinctly sinister Tango and a completely riotous Charleston, which captures the jazz obsessed world of Paris in 1927 to a tee. Deceptively tricky to bring off because of its rhythmic complexity, the six SCO players flawlessly danced and sparkled their way to the rousing final cadence.

This performance was reviewed from the SCO's video stream