This was essentially a programme of concertos. Stravinsky's diminutive titling, Concertino for 12 Instruments certainly reflects length (around seven minutes) without undermining the element of standing out from the crowd. Originally a 1920 string quartet movement, this 1952 reimagining is scored for the punchy combination of flute, oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, two bassoons, two trumpets, tenor and bass trombone, violin and cello. The violin part remains unchanged, resulting in a prominent role for leader Alexander Janiczek. The short work features two cadenza moments for violin; the first features double-stopping and has a searching, quizzical nature while the second is infectiously ebullient and instantly made me smile, such was the joy and humour with which it was delivered.

Llŷr Williams © John Ferro Sims
Llŷr Williams
© John Ferro Sims

Although there are tiny concertante moments for all involved, the hero, I felt, was ensemble skill. Given the odd scoring, the balance and clarity were excellent. The contribution of articulation to rhythmic vitality was illustrated from the outset by Peter Whelan's staccato bassoon. Soon he was joined by Alison Green and, for the first time I can recall, I was aware of contrasting articulation from paired bassoons. This was a great opener; a showcase in chamber virtuosity and a reminder that nobody sounds like Stravinsky.

Janiczek took centre-stage as soloist and director in Mozart's 1775 Violin Concerto no. 3 in G major K216. Impressed by the way he effortlessly passed the bow into his left hand to conduct replacing it fractions of a second before resuming playing, I later read that Janiczek was appointed concertmaster of Camerata Salzburg at a young age - by the legendary Sándor Végh.

The bright key and energetic playing of the SCO assured a lively sound, intensified during the very lively cello and bass figures before several cadential points. The overall brightness rendered all the more effective the turn to G minor, one of Mozart's favourite keys. The triplet semiquaver feel of the string figures in the Adagio lent Janiczek's solo lines a soaring quality. I felt that his playing walked a beautiful line between the expression and restraint. Attention to dynamics, both a soloist and director, really kept the interest alive. Balance across the orchestra was again very impressive; pizzicato double bass pedal notes had no trouble in claiming their airspace and the colouring of string textures by woodwind was very nicely done.

The Adagio's cadenza featured moments which sounded, albeit fleetingly, like Bach's impassioned writing for solo violin. The boisterousness of the closing Rondeau allowed the SCO to let rip, especially the horns, who injected fire into the opening bars, and again towards the movement's close. Janiczek featured in some deft cross-string figures. It's astonishing to think that young Mozart composed five such concertos in the space of ten months, at an age where most young people would be in first year at university.

Taking the stage for Beethoven's 1795 Piano Concerto no. 1 in C soloist and director Llŷr Williams looked as relaxed as I imagine it's possible to look; an adjustment of the piano stool and he stood to conduct the orchestral exposition. The Queen's Hall's fine acoustic meant that, despite heavier orchestration, the clarity was no less than for the Mozart. For example, in the tutti, a descending bassoon line, passing onto woodwind colleagues, rang out clearly. The distant thunder of the timpani was a welcome sound in a thus far percussion-free programme.

Conducting duties initiated, Williams sat at the piano where he dispensed with aplomb some fine pianism, including some exhilarating dialogue between the hands and some glorious trills. Conrad Wilson's very readable programme note mentioned that Beethoven had supplied three cadenzas for this movement. The gripping harmony of William's choice was informed by chains of harmonies featuring clashing neighbouring notes which resolved when the lower one fell. The extended diminished seventh arpeggios were almost silent movie-like in character and the variety of technical skills on show was impressive, including such understated features as projection of melody from multitudinous notes. This is a slightly odd cadenza as it doesn't so much merge with the returning orchestra as stop to make way for it.

The Largo was a much more straightforward, pastoral movement in the contrastingly darker key of A flat. Initially bowed, the pizzicato string accompaniment allowed the solo piano to soar all the more. However, the piano does not hog the limelight as Maximiliano Martin's lovely clarinet lines were to prove.

Audience response following the feel-good Rondo: Allegro scherzando was such that Williams offered Schubert's 1827 Impromptu no. 3 in G flat D899 as an encore. This was a masterclass in timing and timelessness and it was an additional pleasure to watch SCO members enjoying it with us.

****1