Save money with an SCO concert subscription and get a free concert, £5 CD voucher and many other benefits.
Sarah Urwin Jones
22 April 2012
Another trip north of the Border for Oliver Knussen; another trip back through the tonal experiments of time, though unfortunately without the composer’s planned world premiere (it’s not only doctors and builders who get behind schedule), now pencilled in for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Aldeburgh date in June.
There was plenty of interest here, though, in this spiky mix of Knussen, Grime, Hindemith, Stravinsky and Beethoven. Knussen’s Two Organa (1994), a post-serial yin-yang polyphony, draws the ear in multiple directions simultaneously, from the sweet, music-boxey charms of the first, to the more thoughtful resonance of the second. It contrasted rather well with Helen Grime’s A Cold Spring (2009), whose voluble clarinets skittered, unsettled, across the orchestral landscape before a restless horn solo in a work marked by great ensemble clarity and excellent solo work.
Hindemith’s dazzling Kammermusik No 2 (1924), for piano and orchestra, a result of his own idiosyncratic tonal experimentation, replaced the Knussen premiere and ratcheted up the intensity. The pianist Peter Serkin’s fingers must have been raw after the exhilarating first movement, its furious notation and explosive dynamic thrillingly handled, and never mind a few lost notes along the way. More introspective, Serkin’s second movement piano seemed caught in the act of talking to itself, before the fugal aspirations of the finale ended the work in a relentless cascade.
There was more from Serkin with Stravinsky’s Movements for Piano and Orchestra (1959), a deliberate piecemeal work from the composer’s late period, and his first wholly serial piece. Again, the orchestral clarity under Knussen was enlightening and Serkin dotted incisively through the myriad tempos.
Beethoven’s fleeting Eighth Symphony seemed a plush reward for those who had made it thus far through the 20th-century tonal lesson. This sudden leap back a hundred years jarred a little, but you could see Knussen’s point. Beethoven’s innovations leapt off the score from the lapel-grabbing first movement to the vivacious finale. But for all the rich resonance and sound quality coming from the SCO, Knussen seemed to lose the thread of the first movement amid the hilly pizzazz and dynamic and the second’s lightness was occasionally rather clumpy.