Review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 11:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 11:32am

Scottish Chamber Orchestra
HK Cultural Centre Concert Hall
Reviewed: February 21

Robin Ticciati is in his fifth season as principal conductor of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He is committed to the chamber until 2018, which suggests a happy meeting of artistic minds.

Indeed, there wasn't a single bar in this Hong Kong Arts Festival concert where they weren't on the same page.

Interpretations had clearly been meticulously planned and were executed with equal precision; but one never felt that the performance was just going through the motions - an understandable temptation for jaded players on international tours.

Mendelssohn's overture The Hebrides, a reminiscence of the composer's seafaring off the coast of Scotland, started magically by quietly appearing out of nowhere. Its final notes were sailing equally effectively over the horizon until a foghorn from the "bravo!" brigade completely ruined the atmosphere.

The piece is a routine opener for any orchestra, but Ticciati was riveting in his fresh perspective on its twists and turns. Meanwhile, the strings' steely timbre, aptly suggestive of grey northern waters, gave early notice that less vibrato meant more scope for variety in colour.

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony continued in the same vein, breathing life into the most unassuming fragments; but it was the overview of the work that was particularly well judged.

This wasn't an atomic blast through the overfamiliar first movement, with the other three tacked on as fallout. Ticciati transformed the menace of the opening motif into an exercise in nervous anxiety, phrases throbbing ominously throughout.

The variations of the second movement were sustained by a beautifully judged lilt; the colours Ticciati coaxed from the players hardly had time to dry before another one was slapped on. Those unexpected twists in character continued in the third movement, before a stonking finale that still managed to give the occasional nod to the music's feminine side.

The orchestra's opening statements in Chopin's Piano Concerto No 2 were lovingly moulded in unusually long and delicately arched lines, giving soloist Maria Joao Pires a lot to live up to. Her account of the work pleased the audience hugely, but left me stone cold, not least when it made Chopin's gossamer decorations, woven so delicately throughout the work, sound more like a set of toppling dominos.

Sam Olluver