The Queen’s Hall is particularly full for this Scottish Chamber Orchestra concert, not least because there are many young people present; clearly, the SCO are being very successful at getting school students into their concerts. Hopefully, they’re happy with their visit; they certainly give an enthusiastic response at the end of the concert.
They are also lucky in the conductor tonight, the brilliant young Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto, who has lately become a rather accomplished conductor. Tonight, he shows both his talents, conducting from the violin through Bach and Hillborg, and taking to the baton to conduct Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony.
The concert opens with Kuusisto conducting from the violin nine string players from the SCO in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. They of course play it beautifully and bring out the melody and the symmetry of Bach. This contrasts with the next work, Swedish composer Anders Hillborg’s Bach Materia, a work written for tonight’s soloist, which gives him freedom to improvise on Bach. Kuusisto uses this freely in a theatrical manner, whistling and humming and engaging in a duet with bass player Nikita Naumov, who is himself quite a theatrical player. The concert then continues with some very sweet Bach Partitas and some traditional Finnish folk tunes.
The major symphonic work in the concert sees Kuusisto with the baton conducting Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony. This great work took Sibelius seven years and a lot of effort to compose between 1912 and 1919, clearly giving rise to some major headaches since he reduced the movements from four to three. He was also coping with changes in musical styles which were taking place at that time in Europe, including the advent of modernism. The music reflects Finnish culture and nature, as do many of his works, including here the beating of swans’ wings, reflected in the music of the horns. Kuusisto is obviously very familiar with this great Finnish work and conducts the full SCO with great authority. It makes a great conclusion to an unusual but interesting concert.