Strauss: Wind Concertos, Queen's Hall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
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Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Robin Ticciati conductor
Maximiliano Martin (clarinet) Peter Whelan (Bassoon) Alex Frank-Gemmill (horn) Members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Running time

Richard Strauss’ Duet-Concertino for Clarinet and Bassoon and string orchestra (in three movements) was the last orchestral piece he wrote at the age of eighty-six. He had started composing when he was six years old. An unusual combination of woodwind instruments for a duet they represent the characters in the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.

Conducted by Robin Ticciati, who is in his eighth year as Principal Conductor of the SCO, the piece starts wistfully with the strings, as if Strauss was ruminating on his life, then the clarinet is introduced and the mood is substantially elevated when it is joined by the bassoon. The soloists were Maximiliano Martin on clarinet and Peter Whelan on bassoon. (He is the Principal bassoon player in the SCO).

There is a range of emotions involved in the story which Strauss recreated in the score and both musicians excelled in their ability to reproduce these variations. They are accomplished virtuoso players with astonishing breath control and they created a superb performance.

Anna Meredith is one of Britain’s leading composers and the short work the SCO chose to play was inspired by a Charles Rennie Mackintosh water colour painting ‘Butterfly Flower.’ Meredith used the alternative name for the plant as her title called ‘Fringeflower.’ Horns predominate but individual instruments, such as piccolo and flute, are introduced throughout enhancing the delicate, ephemeral nature of the plant. The musicians in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra are perfectly at ease playing modern works and gave an authentic rendition of this composition.

Strauss’ father was principal horn player at the court opera in Munich. His first horn concerto was written when he was eighteen. However, his Horn Concerto No 2 in E flat was written almost sixty years later in l943. Writing compositions was his raison d’etre and he didn’t participate in the turbulent political atmosphere prevalent in Germany at that time.

The horn is a notoriously difficult instrument to play but Alex Frank-Gemmill – soloist and Principal Horn player of the SCO - played it as though effortlessly. In three movements, the finale – Rondo: Allegro Molto – had many leaping fifths but, impressively, he didn’t fluff one note. He, obviously, has an excellent rapport with his fellow musicians and Ticciatii and together they produced a memorable performance.

The talent of the musicians came to the fore in the final work on the programme – Schubert’s Symphony No 1. Written when he was only sixteen it shows his immense mature talent for writing orchestral works which suit both chamber and symphony orchestras.

A bold composition, it juxtaposes a full orchestral sound with pleasing melodies from the string section. The final movement – the Allegro Vivace – was taken at a great pace under Ticciati’s baton and the last bars resounded around the auditorium.