For the silver jubilee of Ronald Brautigam’s history with the Amsterdam Sinfonietta, Sally Beamish composed a new work. Perhaps a Dutch composer would have been more logical, but Brautigam, through his Scottish wife, developed a great love for Beamish's country. The English-born composer created a tribute to Scotland’s nature that reaffirms her reputation as a Scottish composer. Haydn, Mozart, and Elgar topped off this well-rounded programme tailored to the high class of the AS, elegantly led by the highly expressive Candida Thompson.

Ronald Brautigam © Marco Borggreve
Ronald Brautigam
© Marco Borggreve
As if a sunrise awakening, Haydn’s Symphony no. 6 in D major “Le Matin” opened the evening. Ms Thompson and the AS increased the audience’s anticipation with their enchanting play: a breathing texture with a resounding depth emanated from the string’s fierce brilliance. Throughout, the guest flautist impressed with her expressive vibrancy in Haydn’s fluttering notes during her interplay with Ms Thompson.

Then Brautigam premiered Sally Beamish’s Piano Concerto no. 1: Hill Stanzas. Although the piece did not captivate as a whole, some highly contrasting passages generated haunting moments. She wrote most of the piece during her stay on a Scottish nature reserve. Exposed to vast desolation, fierce winds, bird songs and water currents, Ms Beamish captured this landscape in her music. The concerto consists of four parts. “Water” opens; here the strings’ high registers produced a nightmarish atmosphere. Brautigam made Beamish’s notes sound like raindrops, while percussive effects later created stormy weather. In “Sleep”, the soloist evoked the ambience of a Nocturne, but disrupted by bruising chords towards the end. 

The third part “Glamourie” refers to the enchantment in Scottish legends. An eerie shadow of a country folk tune could be heard softly in Beamish’s dense string tapestry, briefly suggesting a pastoral mood. Ms Thompson conducted with minimal expression and with elegant simplicity where her slight hand gestures kept a tight grip on her musicians. For the instrument that started her career, Beamish crafted throughout for the viola many mesmerising, melodic passages. 

They quickly moved on to the final movement, based on another legend about tailors' deaths in a highland valley: “The Tailors' Stone”. It burst with energy. Candida kept steady tempi during this tempest. With clear focus, the Dutch pianist performed without theatrics, letting the music speak for itself. Later this year, he will take Ms Beamish uncanny work on a European tour.

After the intermission, the AS returned with Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, but disappointed emotionally. This highly technical piece demonstrated again the great skill of this string orchestra, producing alternately roaring and resonating brilliance. Yet they did not stimulate Elgar’s incisive, skin crawling emotion.

Brautigam returned now seated behind a forte piano for Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 17 in G major. Ms Thompson and the soloist are well attuned to each other. Brautigam performed with an almost brazen temperament. In the opening Allegro, the red and brown colours of the bassoon enriched to the strings tapestry. In the Andante the oboe passages shared the spotlight with Brautigam. In the final Allegretto-Presto, Ms Thompson and Brautigam wrapped up with fluid momentum infused with elegance and class that culminated in a polished transparency.

Even though the Amsterdam Sinfonietta’s sonorous depth and brilliance impressed, it was disappointing that tonight lacked an emotive drive. Though with their sound and colours, they did impress without a doubt.

***11