Like Leonore 3, this concert began in turbulence and ended in glory. Trouble set in early, though. This evening saw Gustavo Gimeno make his debut with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but his Beethoven was insecure and very rough around the edges. Perhaps a lot of it stemmed from his unclear beat, which seemed very fluid to my eye and, therefore, difficult to follow. Either way, the Leonore overture was plagued with some pretty serious lapses in ensemble and a generally ragged approach. It never completely fell apart, but the players never seemed completely secure either, and that meant that the main Allegro never blazed with the confidence that it should.

Gustavo Gimeno © Marco Borggreve
Gustavo Gimeno
© Marco Borggreve

Things improved with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, but that was thanks to the suave confidence of superstar soloist Renaud Capuçon, who played with such commanding assurance that what came from his violin alone sounded more symphonic than the whole of the Beethoven had done. Oozing presence (and Gallic élan) from every pore, he played with an overwhelming legato that was, nevertheless, impressively assertive, meaning that the melodies flowed from his violin like liquid gold. However, he was clearly the one in charge and it was thanks to him that the orchestra responded with increased confidence, even when occasionally behind his beat. The first movement was full of tragic drama before an Andante of profound cantabile melody, buoyed up by a gorgeous bed of orchestral strings. Never less than riveting to watch, Capuçon himself threw all sorts of sly touches and causal winks into the playful main theme of the finale, before playing a beautifully still piece of Gluck for his encore. His superb performance pretty much stole the first half.

I don’t know what was said or done during the interval, however, but whatever it was, it worked, because the second half was a thriller: a cracking performance of Schumann’s Second Symphony that made me wonder whether it had hoovered up all the rehearsal time. Everything was right this time, the mood of each moment carefully calibrated and beautifully judged, so that the slow introduction was pregnant with expectation before the sharp attack of the main Allegro and a scherzo of razor-sharp clarity. The orchestra used the same set of instruments all night, including natural brass and timps, but it was here that I most noticed the benefit of them, with the duelling brass of the first movement’s recapitulation and the militaristic thwack of the timps. You could also hear it in Gimeno’s period-inflected approach, with plangent woodwinds in the introduction and the sighing strings of the Adagio, played with just enough vibrato to give them colour while retaining their softness of character. By the time of the exhilarating finale, taken at a thrilling lick but nevertheless completely accurate, I was ready to forgive what had gone wrong earlier. It was all a bit baffling, though. At least the journey ended, as it should, in a blaze of light.