City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Scottish Chamber Orchestra Plays Brahms and Schumann

By Barbara Bryan - Posted on 08 May 2010

Scottish Chamber Orchestra
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Queen's Hall
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
John Storgards (Conductor), Stephan Loges (Baritone), Rachel Nicholls (Soprano), Benjamin Hulett (Tenor)
Running time: 

The composers in this programme are interlinked by friendship. Brahms visited Robert and Clara Schumann in 1853 when he was 20, and immediately became a close friend of the couple.

The first composition of the evening, Serenade No 2 in A major, was written in 1859, three years after Robert Schumann's death, and dedicated to Clara, whom Brahms had by this time fallen passionately in love with. One of Brahms' favourite scores, he continued to make alterations on the Serenade right up until 1875. 

It is a gentle piece in five movements and although one tends to associate a serenade with the violin, Brahms chose not to include a violin section in the score and so there are violas, cellos, double basses, woodwind and horns. 

There is a varied musical mixture in the work, with some haunting sonorous repetitive passages interchanged with regimentation, and dramatic moments in the finale. The orchestra, conducted by the guest Finnish conductor John Storgards, played the Serenade with great sensitivity and compassion.

The next piece on the programme was quite different. Brahms 'Four Serious Songs' was written many years later in 1896. Precipitated by the stroke of his beloved Clara (their relationship was never consummated) the Bible texts are taken from passages of Ecclesiastes, Sirach and Corinthians. The predominant theme is one of death. Indeed, Brahms completed the songs on the 7th May and Clara died on the 20th May.

Questioning our existence, and the possibility of an afterlife, they conclude with …"now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." 

Brahms was the first singer to perform the songs, and when he began singing the words of the third song "Oh death, how bitter is the remembrance of thee…" he was apparently visibly shaking. He did, in fact, die a year later at the age of 64. 

Stephan Loges was the Baritone in this concert. With his magnificent, rich voice he interpreted the songs with such poignancy creating a most moving performance.

The final composition on the programme was the rarely heard Mass in C Minor by Schumann. He began the piece in 1852 at a time when his mental health had started to deteriorate (he tragically died in 1856 in an asylum). 

An extraordinary composer, he had the first draft completed in ten days followed by the orchestration, although he added the 'Offertorium' later. The quintessence of Romanticism, the Mass - sung with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra choir (whose chorusmaster is Gregory Batsleer) - begins on a sombre note, typical of Masses.

Storgards, the conductor, was obviously enthralled by the music. He was thoroughly engaged with the passages, eliciting a marvellous sound from the orchestra. The beautiful soprano voice of Rachel Nicholls resounded around the auditorium. The tenor Benjamin Hulett and baritone Stephan Loges made a perfect singing partnership.

Occasionally, there wasn't the precision with the choir, but they excelled in their rendition of the Sanctus, in particular the Amen, which sounded fabulous. Following the Sanctus, the Mass concludes with Agnes Dei (Lamb of God). In complete contrast to the Sanctus, the music is delicate, hauntingly exquisite. A marvellous performance.

Friday 7th May - Glasgow City Hall 7.30pm