A refreshing Austro-German programme of works that neatly dovetailed into each other, presented with energy by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Robin Ticciati, opened with a welcome outing of one of Brahms’ most pungent orchestral works. Once at the forefront of programming the Tragic Overture and its jolly partner, the Academic Festival Overture, are rarer beasts in the concert hall now. And Ticciati certainly made a case for it as a concert opener, with a sharp and dramatic account that swept all before it. Only a slight lack of warmth in the strings seemed to undermine to the more passionate moments.

Christian Tetzlaff © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Christian Tetzlaff
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Berg's Violin Concerto that followed is perhaps the most successful and enduring concert works composed in Schoenberg’s 12-tone system. In it, Berg manages to find a way to broadly stick to Schoenberg’s rules, but also to achieve expressive and emotional range. In this performance, Christian Tetzlaff seemed to have this music so much under his skin that all its stylistic and emotional twists and turns flowed with superlative naturalness and logic. And here the SCO sounded most at home, the fluidity of the ensemble almost like chamber music and all the delights of Berg’s intricate Debussyian orchestration uncovered. Tetzlaff was also very sensitive to the ensemble, at times more than happy taking an accompanying role.

In the glorious second movement the painful outbursts of the opening section collapse into the variations on a Bach choral, interspersed with folksong, to rounds off the concerto. This is one of the most touching moments in any violin concerto. The hushed intensity of this performance was perfectly pitched, leaving the audience, after the final bars, holding its breath.

Robin Ticciati © BBC | Chris Christodoulou
Robin Ticciati
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Thomas Larcher is an Austrian composer whose music has been increasingly appreciated over the past decade in this country. His Nocturne – Insomnia from 2008 is a good example of his considerable skills. Starting dreamily in a largely tonal language, the music becomes agitated and more atonal. These passages have an annoyingly witty realism, depicting the little worms of worries that prevent sleep. The small ensemble is used brilliantly, producing a very wide range of sounds and irritating scratches. Ultimately it seems sleep is achieved, with a return to the dreamy opening, but the effect for the listener is disturbing and unresolved. A highly rewarding and entertaining 15 minutes.

The concert rounded off with Schumann’s Symphony no. 3 in E flat major known as the “Rhenish”. Written near the end of Schumann’s compositional career, it is an apparently robust work, but its subtle magic can be lost in a poor performance. Here, all was not lost, but it wasn’t a victory. Ticciati chose a good tempo for the opening movement giving it an appropriate swagger and lilting energy, with particularly fine playing from the horns. It was in the middle three movements that the performance let itself down. All three seemed under characterised and a tad neat – particularly in the Ländler-like Scherzo, which definitely needed more rhythmic spice and also in the grand fourth movement, Feierlich, with its depiction of Cologne Catherdral, here not given enough space and drama. However in the finale the bright atmosphere and increasing excitement were excellently brought off and crowned by some superb brass playing.