This Royal Scottish National Orchestra programme conducted by Gilbert Varga was so insistent on its nationality that it was akin to a French embassy. A number of characters moved inside its walls, receiving German and Russian influences and negotiating the future of French Tradition and creative progress.

In Franck’s Les Éolides we had a French tone poem composed by a Belgian, inspired by Germanic composition. Hints of the Tristan and Isolde theme made clear the influence of Wagner on Franck’s composition, but my mind wandered further back to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. The RSNO strings established themselves as the key ingredient in this treat, beautifully harnessing the legato phrasing and bowing to generate the 'breeze'. It was a soothing sound from the tutti strings, but with an especially strong cello section.

Daniel Müller-Schott © Uwe Arens
Daniel Müller-Schott
© Uwe Arens

Daniel Müller-Schott gave a fantastic, polished performance of Saint-Saëns' First Cello Concerto. He has a gorgeous, rich tone that nods to his influences: Mstislav Rostropovich’s distinctive sound intensity and ‘circular’ bowing, and Steven Isserlis’ near faultless intonation and elegance. He played a fabulous opening of the concerto, seamless, clear and exciting. Composing for the cello was still forward-looking at the time, yet the musical material itself is nostalgic, orientated towards the past. Müller-Schott performed the concerto well, with calculated moments of clarity. The orchestra was at the top of their game. The cello was almost fatherly in the orchestral minuet, sitting on top, guarding it. There was flawless double-stopping and harmonic passages from Müller-Schott. The orchestra was light, void of heavy lower brass and flexible.

Fauré's Élégie which followed was superb, with beautiful shifts from Müller-Schott, his interaction with the orchestra continued delightfully, especially with the flute. This slow piece commands such poise and strength, all of which Müller-Schott has in abundance – a varied virtuoso indeed. His vibrato was equally notable for its translation into emotional control, and the ending left myself and a great deal of the audience breathless. 

Briefly, the encore Müller-Schott gave was the opening Declamato: Largo movement from Britten’s Second Cello Suite. There was a strong working relationship and friendship between Britten and Rostropovich. Müller-Schott had an effortless command of the many leaps involved in this piece in which Britten clearly enjoys the large vocal and expressive range of the instrument. 

During the first two movements of Ravel’s Ma mère l’Oye, the second violins produced such a beautiful and effortless sound, with duets showing off the sections of the orchestra. In the third movement, the bassoon and xylophone emphasised the oriental splendour. Just as the Post-Impressionists looked towards oriental art, so too did Ravel; he worked closely with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes at this time.

Ravel’s La Valse finished the programme, with its three sections, according to Varga, about “creation”, “enjoyment”, and “destruction”. The conductor described it as a “waltz shredder”. There was a great deal of freedom in Varga’s conducting. The gong was like a wall of sound, deep and destructive at the end of this piece, bringing the concert to a close in a very different way from its beginning. There is a darker palette lurking in the conventionally undramatic French musical character.