The seemingly endless variety of conducting styles in existence intrigues me. This is particularly striking when one conductor displays three styles, in as many pieces, in a single concert. Joseph Swenson (Conductor Emeritus of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra) began this programme by guiding the SCO through Stravinsky's Concerto in E flat, 'Dumbarton Oaks' (1937). This was a performance brimming with vitality. His movements were tiny: a flick of his right pinkie cueing in a pair of watchful double bassists; a rotation of the left wrist endorsing phrasing in the violins. I took to this minimalism immediately, feeling that a tight formation of musicians of this calibre need not be shown every beat. Even in an extended passage of syncopation, where the liberated basses continually avoided beat one, there was (it seemed to me on the outside) a lovely, light, trusting approach to musical direction.

Colin Currie, © Marco Borggreve
Colin Currie,
© Marco Borggreve

Commissioned by Mr and Mrs Woods Bliss of Dumbarton Oaks, Washington to celebrate their thirtieth wedding anniversary, the work is avowedly Brandenburg in style and features flute, clarinet, bassoon, two horns and strings. There even seemed to be some borrowing from the opening Allegro of Bach's Third Brandenburg Concerto in Stravinsky's opening movement. A lover of wind instruments and a composer who appreciated their potential to generate rhythmic drive, Stravinsky tempers this drive with more tender sustained string chords. The sound in such moments was beautiful. The wind soloists excelled themselves, particularly the flute in the central Allegretto. The aforementioned double bass players seemed really to enjoy this piece, and who could be surprised? This work contains some great melodic and contrapuntal writing for them from a great composer whose contribution to music is often described merely as 'the emancipation of rhythm'.

A dance theme was beginning to emerge. Implied in the Stravinsky, it was more a stated aim of Sally Beamish's percussion concerto Dance Variations (2011). An SCO commission and written for Colin Currie, the piece couples each of the 'seven deadly sins' with allusion to a dance movement. I say 'allusion' for two reasons: a straightforward dance movement would have confined the soloist; and also, the dance element felt more like stylistic reference and reworking than an all-too-easy immersion. For example, the wittily entitled 'Envy: Tango' felt years away from Jacob Gade's Tango Jalousie and even at quite a remove from the concert tango language of Piazzolla. Even Beamish's musical quoting was affectively distancing. 'Sloth: Pavan' borrowed the descending four-note scale from Dowland's Lachrimae Antique Pavan (also known as 'Flow My Tears'). However, the context demanded a delivery reminiscent of Harry Enfield's teenage character, Kevin.

Although centred around Currie's generally sloth-free marimba virtuosity, the piece employed a considerable battery of percussion instruments, necessitating some nifty footwork. This was particularly the case when Swenson, baton in hand this time, peeped over his shoulder to confirm that Currie was in place for the final floor-tom flourish. I really enjoyed this UK première – not only the wonderful percussion but also the imaginative scoring. I look forward to another opportunity to hear this engaging piece. The audience reaction suggests that many shared my feeling. Currie, Beamish and Swenson were repeatedly recalled to acknowledge enthusiastic applause.

It had crossed my mind that visibility, in the face of large forces, had been Swenson's reason for using the baton. However, he returned from the interval open-handed, for the performance of Beethoven's Symphony no. 7 – 'the apotheosis of the dance', according to Wagner. The conducting style here – involving hand shapes mirroring the music's tension, sweeping arm movements, bodily swaying and urgent footwork – could not have been further from the minimalism witnessed earlier.

A claim could be made that the 'emancipation of rhythm' credited to Stravinsky really began in this work, premièred in 1813, exactly 100 years before The Rite of Spring. The insistent motif of the Allegretto – often used in film and television to suggest gradually unfolding destiny – is a case in point. This was magnificently paced by Swenson and the SCO. The infectious happiness of the other three movements was wonderfully communicated. This felt particularly true in the Scherzo, whose unconfined joy contrasted very effectively with the more cautiously optimistic German hymn tune of the Trio. The capacity audience erupted at the end of the closing Allegro con brio and Swenson, after a considerable workout, seemed delighted. This was an immensely enjoyable, imaginative and energetic programme – beautifully timed for the spring in the step brought about by the change in the seasons.