Robin Ticciati/Scottish Chamber Orchestra
J.S. Bach: Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D
Copland: Clarinet Concerto
Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 ‘From the New World’
Maximilano Martín, clarinet
22 March 2018
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
In what continues to be a sterling showcase of all of the talents in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Robin Ticciati’s collaboration, Ticciati’s final concert with the SCO as Principal Conductor truly captured one of their most striking aspects: their versatility. They opened the evening’s performance with the Bach suite played by a pared-down Baroque ensemble of about a third of the Orchestra’s usual strength. This meant even the subtlest of textures — like, in the first movement, the dulcet bassoon interjecting with staggered notes, or the glassy sheen of the violins playing close to the bridge — came to the fore and gave the performance a delicate richness. Yet there was not a moment in the first piece when the orchestra did not dazzle, especially in the pairs of bourrées and minuets in the movements that followed which the players handled with great poise and elegance. Given the elaborate, Late-Romantic complexity of what was to come later in the programme, the Bach opening — with its levity and clarity — soared above the rest of the performance as something far simpler and something beautiful for that reason.
The SCO’s own Maximilano Martín was the soloist for the Copland Clarinet Concerto. I have heard his various recordings with the SCO, of the Mozart and Weber concertos as well as the Mozart divertimenti with the SCO’s wind ensemble, and looked forward to this performance eagerly. Both orchestra, this time only the strings, and soloist performed the slow movement with precision and care, giving the music its full expressive depth. Right from the opening cadenza, Martín’s presence on stage and the tender singing of his clarinet were captivating. Where he really came into his own was the jazz-like second movement, where he handled the scurrying rhythms and the jagged phrases with élan and wit. Throughout the performance, both he and the Orchestra exercised immense control, and it was remarkable that though the first movement was delicate and moving it never seemed saccharine or gushing, and likewise the energy and verve of the second movement did not overwhelm its unique charm.
One of my fondest memories of Ticciati and the SCO is a performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral symphony which he conducted without the score, and I was hoping that this being his farewell concert, he would do something just as maverick. He did just that: he conducted Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony without the score, now with a full-fledged orchestra. Ticciati’s interpretation was one which truly captured the spirit of Dvořák’s composition, as he and the Orchestra rendered the folkish themes in a manner that was atmospheric and fleeting, which they supplemented with the imposing brass fanfares to capture the true boldness with which Dvořák sought to compose a new, national music. The sense of daring and risk that Ticciati brought to this performance complemented this boldness brilliantly. Meanwhile, the woodwinds were in fine form in the slow movement. There were several moments in the piece that were truly memorable, like the radiant brass flourish in the second movement or the bracing scherzo, made all the more immediate and astonishing by all of the traits of the SCO that I have come to love: that their sound was so clear that and the players so precise that even the softest vibrato gave the string textures tremendous richness. But the sheer splendour and ambition that Ticciati and the SCO brought to this were unparalleled, and made for a stunning performance that raised the roof.
As this was the farewell concert, there was some ceremony to Ticciati’s departure: Martín and pianist Peter Evans gave an encore prior to the interval of a duet they prepared to say goodbye to Ticciati, and Ticciati also gave a final encore with the orchestra. And although he will return to conduct the SCO again — they are due to perform the Brahms symphony cycle at the Edinburgh International Festival this year following the release of their recent recording — I am incredibly sad to see him go. It is true that both he and the Orchestra will grow from strength to strength through new musical collaborations. But this concert has reminded me how much I will miss him, and that the music scene in Edinburgh will not be the same.