It was an interesting choice of music on this Scottish Chamber Orchestra programme: all three pieces are infrequently performed. Conducted by the Flemish guest conductor, Philippe Herreweghe, the first composition was by J S Bach – The Art of Fugue, Contrapunctus 1 & !V’ which was published posthumously a year after his death in 1751. Scored for strings and with a striking double bass continue, both movements revolve around a simple theme, with Herreweghe, who is an authority on Baroque music, eliciting a most pleasing sound from the musicians in the permutations of the theme.
The German pianist, Martin Helmchen, was the soloist in Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No 2 in D minor. A particularly challenging concerto for a pianist (which Mendelssohn himself played at the premiere at the Birmingham Festival in 1837), it has a dramatic introduction including a fortissimo run of double octaves.
It was fascinating to watch Helmchen’s fingers fly across the keyboard at a fantastic speed. What an accomplished pianist: not only did he display his technical brilliance, he also illustrated his talent for interpreting the slow passages with superb sensitivity and lightness of touch.
The final movement is very difficult, but Helmchen displayed his outstanding pianistic gifts and ultimately succeeded in creating a thrilling conclusion of his performance of this concerto.
An appreciative audience demanded an encore and he played beautifully one of J S Bach’s Chorale Preludes.
The final composition in the programme was Schumann’s Symphony No 2 in C. The brass section play the theme at the beginning, followed by the woodwind section. The music, which oscillates from tender to dramatic moments with great rapidity mirrors with such profundity the then troubled state of Schumann’s mind.
The first and second movements are packed with emotion and are particularly demanding for the musicians. The luscious quavering strings, encouraged by the conductor in the third movements, were beautifully interpreted by the string section, and the optimistic mood in the finale, like a fanfare, was successfully achieved by this talented orchestra.