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SCO at 50: A sensational playlist for half a century

1 Jan 2024

News Story

Even setting aside an understandable bias, it has to be said that the Scottish Chamber Orchestra has an enviably rich recorded legacy. It admittedly stops short of covering the half-century of the Orchestra’s existence (the first recording dates from 1976, two years after its launch), but the sheer number issued in the 1980s alone is testament to the success of the young ensemble.

These early recordings saw the gradual decline of the long-playing record as well as the rise and fall of the cassette tape, both giving way to the CD. That the playlist below even exists bears witness to the growth of streaming platforms, though the reemergence of the LP is also worthy of an honourable mention.

Please note there are over 5 hours of music on this playlist. We would suggest dipping in and out rather than attempting to take in the whole lot at a single sitting. To that end, our selection is divided up into five themed sections.


We open with a composite of Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony, which the Orchestra has recorded 4 times: with Jaime Laredo in 1987, Jose Serebrier in 1990, Joseph Swensen in 2002 and Maxim Emelyanychev only last year. Serebrier’s interpretation is unfortunately not available at the time of writing, but given the wide acclaim which has greeted the latest recording, it seems only right to give Maxim, the current SCO Principal Conductor, pride of place.

The Orchestra's earliest currently available recording, of flute concertos by the Stamitz family, dates from 1982. One of a number of releases on the Erato label featuring renowned flautist Jean-Pierre Rampal, this saw the players under the baton of Raymond Leppard, SCO Principal Guest Conductor from 1978 to 1985. Among the latter’s most notable successes with the Orchestra was a 1980 television broadcast of the complete Brandenburg Concertos on the BBC.

With some historical context in place, the final part of this introduction takes its inspiration from Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, by focusing on each section of the Orchestra in turn. Thus we have Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves, one of Vivaldi’s many concertos for multiple wind instruments, Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique for the brass and percussion, concluding with Peter Maxwell Davies’ final Strathclyde Concerto, a wonderful showcase for the Orchestra as a whole.


Turning our attention to the conductor's podium, we find a number of important figures in the history of the SCO. James Loughran, who conducted the Orchestra for their very first concert, is followed by Principal Conductors Jukka-Pekka Saraste (1987-1991), Robin Ticciati (2009-2018) and Maxim Emelyanychev (since 2019), along with the much-loved Sir Charles Mackerras (Principal Guest Conductor 1992-1995 and subsequently Conductor Laureate). Guest appearances by Jose Serebrier and some musicians one would not typically associate with the Orchestra – Michael Tippett (conducting his own music), Andrew Parrott (founder of the Taverner Consort, but conducting Judith Weir here) and Steuwart Bedford – complete this set.

Spotlight on Sir Charles Mackerras

If you thought Sir Charles' appearance a few tracks ago all too brief, the next six should make up for it in style. All taken from his recordings of Mozart operas, these are ensemble pieces showcasing the countless singers who joined him and the Orchestra for this acclaimed series. We won’t list them all here, but considering that they range from Alastair Miles as Figaro to Barbara Hendricks as Pamina, via Lorraine Hunt Lieberson and Magdelena Kožená, you can take it as read that the cast lists are pretty spectacular.

Instrumental soloists

We now step away from vocal music to highlight the many, many instrumentalists who have recorded concerto repertoire with the SCO. Again, there are some big names here, including percussionist Evelyn Glennie, horn player Barry Tuckwell and violinist Renaud Capuçon, along with a significant roster of SCO Principals: clarinettist Maximiliano Martín is still in the Orchestra, though Alec Frank-Gemmill and Peter Whelan have since left.

There is also room for another composite performance, with John O’Conor, Piotr Anderszewski and Alfred Brendel taking turns at the keyboard for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 17. Finally, mention should also be made of Joseph Swensen (Principal Conductor 1996-2005, now Conductor Emeritus), who directed the Orchestra from the violin for a number of concerto recordings: they are represented here by the much-loved slow movement from Brahms' Violin Concerto.

Vocal soloists

We open with Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale, narrated by none other than Christopher Lee - an entirely appropriate choice for this story of a Faustian bargain, which also serves as a warning that there are some unexpected names to come!

For the most part, however, it's the rollcall of fine singers you'd expect, among them Felicity Lott and Bryn Terfel singing Handel (in 1984 and 1997 respectively), Jennifer Larmore in bel canto repertoire and Gillian Keith in equally virtuosic music by Richard Strauss. We conclude with Mackerras' recording of Fidelio, which should make up for his Beethoven symphony cycle being unavailable on streaming services.


To send you on your way, the focus returns firmly to the Orchestra for Peter Maxwell Davies' enormously fun Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise. It would be an occasion to toast the health of the SCO, but as you'll hear, there are plenty of wedding guests slightly the worse for wear depicted in the music ...

That said, and with apologies for mixing our languages, Slàinte Mhath - floreat SCO!

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