SCO/Knussen review – featherweight and fizzing for Mendelssohn, Henze and Martin Suckling

City Halls, Glasgow
Oliver Knussen’s lightness and lack of pomp created an evening of wondrous moments, crowned by charismatic viola player Jane Atkins’s Britten

Oliver Knussen writes music that is luminous, honed and full of fine detail; the same applies to the way he conducts. In his programmes with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, he always puts light between musical elements – as if he wants us to marvel at each ingredient on its own and then appreciate how it all fits together. These concerts are like lecture-demonstrations without words; analysis classes without the sermonising.

Jane Atkins, principal SCO viola player.
Ferocious energy … Jane Atkins, principal SCO viola player. Photograph: Marco Borggreve

What struck me this time was his way with endings: chords that last as long as they need to, then are gone – simple as that. It’s a sort of anti-pomp that suited Mendelssohn’s First Symphony. Knussen kept it crisp and kinetic, but still paused for wondrous little moments, such as the shock arrival of a major chord within a minor key. And it suited Hans Werner Henze’s gossamer First Symphony. Perhaps the strings could have given the third movement more bite, but elsewhere the sound was beautifully featherweight.

Two years ago, Robin Ticciati conducted the premiere of Martin Suckling’s Six Speechless Songs. Then it sounded jubilant, but wobbly edged; now Knussen brought the score’s best ideas into sharper focus, with brass lines refusing to let go of shining chords and flutes fizzing into the stratosphere. SCO principal viola Jane Atkins – a player of tremendous muscle and charisma – gave an urgent, restless performance of Britten’s Lachrymae. Her energy was ferocious, which made the graciousness of her final variation even more striking.


Kate Molleson

The GuardianTramp

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