|Back to HOMEPAGE
Scottish Ensemble plays delightful C.P.E. Bach
and Brahms, but what happened
to the Handel?
Filed 20 Apr 08
The Scottish Ensemble, which is based in Glasgow, are completing their current season with a Scottish tour and then performing next Thursday at the Wigmore Hall, London. The programme consists of
Handel: Concerto Grosso in B flat major, Op 6, no 7
C.P.E.Bach: Cello Concert in A minor (Raphael Wallfisch: cello)
Brahms: String Quintet no 2 in G major, Op 111 (arr. Morton)
I went to hear them at the Queens Hall, Edinburgh on Friday 18th April.
This ensemble has an enviable reputation for the quality of its playing. There is no conductor. It is led by its Director, Jonathan Morton who plays first violin. The Scottish Ensemble is also recognised for the interesting programmes they present. This concert was no exception.
His playing of the C.P.E Bach Cell Concerto
was a joy
(Photo: Benjamin Ealovega)
The Cello Concerto in A minor by C.P.E.Bach was beautifully played by soloist Raphael Wallfisch. The quality of the tone he produced was truly admirable. There was lovely interaction between soloist and ensemble, showing undoubted empathy between the two. The balance was perfect so all parts could be clearly heard. The phrasing was gorgeous. Clearly everyone enjoyed it.
Jonathan Morton, the Ensemble Director, had arranged the Brahms String Quintet no 2 for larger forces, doubling up on the strings and adding a double base. The result was splendid. It enhanced the richness of the piece without overstatement. The playing was quite simply superb.
But what happened to Handel's Concerto Grosso Op 6 no 7? This was the opening number on the programme and I did wonder as they played it how the rest of the evening was going to turn out. In sharp contrast to the Bach and the Brahms that followed, the Handel was played with a severe lack of balance, so that the harpsichord was drowned out for most of the time. The phrasing was less than subtle. It was as though they were playing with hobnailed boots on. Delicacy did not get a look in.
I was so perplexed that, after the concert, I enquired as to what had happened. I was told that the Ensemble had tried to present the Concerto "in a new light", "to give it some freshness". While such an attempt may be commendable, there seems to be a trend amongst some to do rather more harm than good. This was seen with Olii Mustonen and Christian Zacharias in concerts given by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra previously reviewed on this website (1, 2). Elsewhere, the antics of Nigel Kennedy introducing jazz into cadenzas of classical concertos as a way of "hoting things up" may be another example. It would appear that his "bad boy" image is being skillfully managed to raise his public profile. For myself, and I suspect many others, this is a trend that I fail to appreciate. Rather I wish to hear the works of the giants of classical music being played superbly well and along the lines the composer intended. That the Scottish Chamber Orchestra is very capable of doing so is witnessed within this same concert season, when under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras or Andrew Manze.
An exception is Jonathan Morton's arrangement of the Brahms Quintet no 2. He kept essentially to what Brahms had intended but with the added richness provided by stronger forces. And, as described above, it was played superbly well and in manner Brahms intended. The result was mighty enjoyable.
It will be interesting to know how the Scottish Ensemble's rendering of the Handel Concerto Grosso goes down at that remarkable centre of chamber music, London's Wigmore Hall. But with a bit of luck this very able ensemble may manage to change their approach to the piece before then.
Bringing on the young
Another impressive feature of this concert event was the involvement of young persons wanting to improve their training in classical music.
There was the young woman who had attended the cello masterclass given by Raphael Wallfisch before the concert. With her cello safely packed away in its shiny white case she had obviously greatly enjoyed the occasion.
And there was the young lad who had been taken to the concert by his grandad because of the boy's interest in playing the cello. He had been given the opportunity to take up the cello at his school and now had his own teacher. His grandad, because of the boy's enthusiasm, had bought him a half-sized cello. The lad had already reached grade 3. I hope he was inspired by Wallfisch's playing. He might have been even more inspired had he and his grandad gone round the back after the concert to meet Wallfisch and witness his modest charm, friendly smile and his obvious enjoyment in working with this very able ensemble.
1. Irvine, James (2008). Olli Mustonen abuses Beethoven and Mozart
at The Queens Hall, Edinburgh
See HOMEPAGE, filed 25 Jan 08, www.land-care.org.uk Click Here to View
2. Irvine, James (2008). Scottish Chamber Orchestra playing Beethoven under Zacharias: a painful experience. Queens Hall, Edinburgh, 3rd April 08
See HOMEPAGE, filed 04 Apr 08, www.land-care.org.uk Click Here to View