This Scottish Chamber Orchestra concert was a journey forwards in time from the primeval druids of Ives’ The Unanswered Question to the raucous modernism of Weimar Germany in Kurt Weill’s Violin Concerto. At times it felt more like a concept album than a concert programme! 

Anthony Marwood
© Walter van Dyck

It was put together by the evening’s conductor, soloist and guest leader Anthony Marwood, who constructed the journey in a way that put himself centre stage without gratuitously stealing the spotlight. He led Haydn’s Symphony no. 8 in G major “Le Soir” with a delightful sense of brightness, the first movement bouncing lightly while balancing the delicate winds against the strings. The slow movement had the intimacy of expanded chamber music, and the finale produced the jolliest storm I’ve heard in a long time, with the flute chirruping gaily above the fray.

Alexander Raskatov’s Five Minutes was even more mischievous, a gorgeously sweet violin solo with other instruments constantly trying to undermine it. Elgar’s Sospiri, on the other hand, was rich, lovely and all-too-fleeting, a ripe contrast to the dances of Stravinsky’s Soldier’s Tale where Marwood himself revelled in the Satanic central role, devilish whirls and leaps escaping from his violin like sulphurous puffs of smoke, with tongue-in-cheek embellishments from the winds and brass.

The most expansive (and unusual) piece on the programme was Weill’s Violin Concerto, written in 1924 before Weill became the man of the theatre that we know so well. His big idea was to write a concerto for violin and an orchestra consisting solely of winds. He changed his mind and added percussion and double basses later, but it still makes for a strange, wiry sound world that the orchestra brought to life with focused transparency in this performance. Weill’s opening movement sounded spidery, melancholy and unsettled. It’s partly a lament for Busoni, his teacher who died during its composition, but it also taps into the contemporary world of the Second Viennese School, with occasional violent outburst breaking up the already pretty fragmented solo line. We’re a long way here from September Song

The orchestra of winds reinforced the idea of the violin as a lonely outsider, even in the second movement where the violin duets with several of the principals, and in the dark perpetuum mobile of the finale the music seems driven by something restless and unsettled, with militaristic outbursts that can’t help but suggest the gathering storm that would soon engulf Weimar Germany. This piece is a rarity, but it’s terrific, played wonderfully here, sounding full of light and energy, and revealing Weill as a genius composer of concert music. A revelation.

But not quite a culmination. With diverse programmes like this there’s always a danger that it becomes a compendium of pieces with a clever title attached, and this concert didn’t entirely escape that. What was the slow movement of Bruckner’s String Quintet doing in there, for example? It’s a beautiful piece and was gorgeously played, but it’s hardly part of a coherent musical case that Marwood was building, and Ives’ Unanswered Question also felt like a clever introduction rather than an essential ingredient in the evening. 

However, even if some of the parts didn’t quite cohere into something bigger, then the individual components of this concert programme were never less than lovely.

****1