Not only were Mozart's last three symphonies all composed in the summer of 1788, but they also embody some of the composer's most accomplished works in terms of style, complexity, and, of course, emotion. Robin Ticciati, conducting the opening concert of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra's season, managed to express all the subtleties of Symphonies nos. 39 and 40, and chose to interpret no. 41 in a very operatic-like manner, which somehow worked but also presented drawbacks. Overall, both the orchestra playing and the conducting style were extremely convincing and augur excellent things for the rest of the season.

Robin Ticciati © Marco Borggreve
Robin Ticciati
© Marco Borggreve

In his programme notes, Svend Brown reminds us why Mozart’s last three symphonies are worth listening together in one concert: “they make a satisfying cycle: courtly and beguiling no. 39; dark and troubled no. 40; expansive and spiritual no. 41.” He underlines that “while there is no historical argument for performing them together, there is plenty of musical sense.”

The same coherence was found in Ticciati’s interpretations. His direction was elegant, graceful, inspired; both his face and gestures were very expressive, which helped him convey his exact intentions to the orchestra. The Symphony no. 39 in E flat major created a smooth and delicate atmosphere. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra rendered beautiful changes in dynamics and textures with great precision. Some details were a bit blurred because of the Usher Hall's acoustic, but the implication of every musician and their capacity to listen to each other gave the music the right impulse. The architecture of the symphony was well-thought through, the ornaments clearly standing out from the musical flow, and a constant energy enhanced the ensemble's cohesion. It would have been perfect if the winds had not been a little covered by the strings.

The performance of the Symphony no. 40 in G minor was just as convincing. At some moments, it seemed that Ticciati was sculpting the sound with his hands, a rare specificity which makes him such a special and a great conductor. He also really played with the dynamics so that each musical sentence conveyed new intentions. Thus the expressivity kept changing thanks to his sense of drama. The second movement Andante was particularly well-crafted and moving, while the fourth was very lively and full of contrasts. Sometimes, several feelings were intertwined in this interpretation, which only emphasized the beauty of certain patterns in the score or a certain progression in its harmony.

After the interval came the very last symphony Mozart wrote, no. 41 in C major, nicknamed the “Jupiter” by Johann Peter Salomon after Mozart's death. The beginning conveyed tenderness and solemnity, but there was not enough bass, with only the melody part highlighted. Even if there was something spectacular in this interpretation, the playing was too legato and, as a consequence, the players frequently rushed tempi. The music slipped through their fingers, lacking rubato, an established beat or use of silence. The tension was set to its maximum from the very start, from where it had nowhere to go. Ticciati's interpretation was still very energetic, but in this case, it did not help to express the drama, it rather narrowed it down. The forward momentum was at the same time too aestheticized and too uncontrollable. At this tempo, it was impossible to play and/or hear all the notes… which is a pity since the symphony contains so many subtleties. Ticciati's tempo choices were understandable – and even tempting – but did not reveal all the music hidden in this amazing score. However, the audience was completely seduced – and it is no mistake: the SCO and Ticciati did great work, even if some of their choices were controversial.