The nights are fair drawing in, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s opening concert of the season signals that Edinburgh’s rich classical musical life is getting under way after the brief pause since the heady days of August and the Edinburgh International Festival. The concert features a bigger SCO, with over fifty players to fill the Usher Hall, under the baton of experienced Italian conductor, Enrique Mazzola. Mazzola is noted for his opera conducting, but seems firmly in control of the SCO tonight.
The concert begins with Denmark’s national composer Carl Nielsen’s Helios overture. This short work, a perfect opening concert piece, was inspired by Nielsen’s visit to Greece and his looking out over the Aegean Sea. Nielsen said about the work: “silence and darkness, the sun rises with a joyous song of praise, it wanders its golden way, and sinks quietly into the sea”. The music mirrors this quotation, opening slowly, almost silently, building to colourful climaxes, finally sinking slowly into silence, beautifully held by the conductor.
This is followed by Finland’s national composer, Sibelius, giving a distinct Scandinavian feel to the first half of the concert. However, Sibelius’s third symphony at thirty minutes, is a much more substantial work than the Nielsen overture, and shows off the full range of the SCO players. Sibelius described the work as “thought crystallizing out of chaos”, a theme which governs the rest of his work. The symphony is in three movements, and the second movement is a very well known and beautiful theme, which the SCO play lovingly. The final movement is redolent of Beethoven, which is appropriate given the final work of the concert.
Beethoven’s violin concerto is, of course, one of the staples of the concert programme, and a peak for any young violinist. It is therefore curious to recall that it didn’t become popular until some fifty years after its composition, as it was deemed “too difficult”, perhaps for players as well as audiences. The big Usher Hall audience has no difficulty loving this work, particularly in the hands of the skilled young Norwegian violinist, Vilde Frang, who, after debuting with the Oslo Philharmonic at the age of twelve, has been making her way all round the concert platforms of the world.
Her playing is superb, and her interaction with the conductor very good. There are times when her quiet delicate playing becomes almost silent, which of course limits its impact! The performance is warmly received by the audience, and with that we are properly underway with the autumn season.