Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Nicholas Kraemer

Handel, Mozart, Musgrave and Lindberg

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, 17 December 2008 4 stars

Nicholas Kraemer

It was extremely pleasing to hear a well articulated performance of Handel's Concerto Grosso in G major Op. 6 No. 1 which in recent decades has been adopted by school string groups and youth orchestras. Directed by Nicholas Kraemer from the harpsichord, the performance exuded confidence and personality with the concertino adding a variety of ornamentation to the solo passages. The fugal sentiments of the second movement, Allegro, and the antiphonal setting of the final movement were particularly vivacious and authoritatively played by the ripieno strings.

At 80 years old it is hard to believe that Scottish composer Thea Musgrave is still composing music (and good music at that). Co-commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Manchester Camerata, Musgrave's newest work, Points of View, gave voices to wind soloists who eventually united in an embracing climax at the end of the work. Musgrave explores dissonant tone clusters in the development of these characters which underpin the entire work. Standing to play, the solo horn was the first to speak in a role which was not virtuosic but in this context formed the central focus. The texture of the piece lacked movement in the opening Mysterious section but soon livened up as rhythmic passages added shape to textural style. The climax was passionate and well earned and it is a piece I would like to hear again.

The violin concerto by Magnus Lindberg was a virtuosic midfield with soloist Jack Liebeck spending most of the piece in the last three inches of the fingerboard. But even in the highest registers Liebeck performed delicately and with grit determination. In three continuous movements, the piece explored the limits of the violin, not only in register, but also in tempo, colour and character. Tonal and atonal structures took the fore as he exploited portamenti, use of the natural harmonic series and unusual double bass entries including a long held note in the brilliant violin cadenza. Liebeck certainly showed the technical mastery, accomplished playing and wit in the performance of this difficult piece.

Ending the program was Mozart's famous 'Haffner' Symphony (No. 35), named after Sigmund Haffner who commissioned it. At last the whole orchestra performed in its fullest sound with Kraemer seeming to enjoy every moment of it. Without a score and employing natural horns and trumpets, Kramer's interpretation was a little garish in the opening of the final movement. But the rest excited and thrilled ending the evening with a sensitive and warm performance.

By Mary Robb

Read recent concert reviews, including the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, here.