Who needs a conductor? Clearly, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra don’t for their concert tonight. The first half is led by their guest leader, violinist Alexander Janiczek, who is standing for the majority of the first half. We open with an evigorating performance of the overture to Mozart’s last opera, La Clemenza di Tito. The music is not as dark as the Magic Flute: it is more restrained. The orchestra play with gusto, and it is taken a quite a lick.
More Mozart follows, with Janiczek taking the solo part in the fourth violin concerto in G. Again, not a flashy piece, apart from the first movement in which Janiczek sparkles. The slow movement is a little thin tone-wise—a little more weight would have improved this lovely cavatina. The last movement is a gracious rondo, and is dispatched with Viennese grace and elegance.
The third Austrian piece tonight comes with Alban Berg’s Three Pieces, from his Lyric Suite of 1925-6. Although a student and friend of Schoenberg, Berg took a slightly different route than his teacher, and his music is more romantic and more generous. It is some achievement to direct this complex music from the leader’s chair, but each of the three deeply expressionistic pieces is performed by the SCO strings with utter brilliance. Special mention must be made of filigree colours in the second movement: a mysterious nocturnal scherzo.
The main draw is the second half: a culmination of the orchestra’s partnership with the brilliant Welsh pianist, Llŷr Williams, in the Beethoven piano concertos. This time Williams directs from the keyboard: brilliantly. This tradition goes back a long way and reminds one of Bernstein, who did the same thing when he played piano concertos.
The playing is amazing, from the grandeur of the opening, through to the slow movement (with excellent wind playing), and the breathtaking finale. Williams performs all of Beethoven’s difficult passage work with ease and technical prowess. He is a fabulous performer, with Beethoven clearly a passion—he has recorded all the sonatas. A great joy to hear, and the SCO play as a highly trained unit, which is all the more evident given they are virtually conducting themselves. A great evening of music making all round.