tue 18/06/2019

Vavic, SCO, Bloch, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Vavic, SCO, Bloch, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Vavic, SCO, Bloch, Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

High spirits and tinge of menace in Alexandre Bloch's big-concert SCO debut

Young French conductor Alexandre Bloch: a passionate, ebullient presence with the SCOAlex Hungary

It’s not the first time that young French conductor Alexandre Bloch has been in front of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra – he took them on a well-received short Scottish tour last summer. But it was his first main-season gig with the band, and he certainly had something to say. "A bit of French and Russian atmosphere," was how he modestly described his concert in the concert progamme’s intro: it was certainly that, but plenty more besides.

As shown in his opener, Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks, one of the pieces he’d toured with the SCO last summer, and which the players clearly knew inside out. Stravinsky’s wit, rhythmic crispness and neo-classical elegance were almost a given, all present and correct – there was a joyful bounce to Bloch’s direction that drew some immaculately crisp playing from the SCO musicians, particularly the winds on especially splendid form. But there was also a richness and a gentle smoothing of Stravinsky’s hard edges that made Bloch’s account feel especially generous, as if together he and the musicians were delving deep to discover the music behind the notes. He came up with a persuasive solution for playing Stravinsky’s reimagining of Bach in the long-limbed slow movement, too, with forthright, heavily phrased, non-vibrato strings adding a distinctive period touch. Very clever.

Anika VavicSerbian pianist Anika Vavic (pictured right) was the rather steely soloist in Shostakovich’s Second Piano Concerto, and despite the presence of a very nervous-looking page-turner following her every move, she barely glanced at her score, staring determinedly instead down at her keyboard for a performance that was as fiery and intense as that might suggest. Brittle, too, at times, occasionally hard-edged, especially in an assertive first movement – but enjoyably so, although balance was sometimes an issue with the intimate forces of the SCO. (And you had to wonder how the second violins managed, perched rather precariously on a corner of the Queen’s Hall stage, and apparently only seeing the back of Bloch’s head.) Despite all the high spirits and fizzing humour, though, there was always an edge of menace to Vavic’s vision of the Concerto that never let us forget it utilitarian Soviet origins – even if she gave way nicely to indulgence in a lush slow movement, whose luxurience she matched in the exquisite, restless Scriabin prelude she offered as an encore, seemingly made up on the spot.

Strangely, something didn’t gel about the Ravel Pavane pour une infante défunte with which Bloch opened the second half – with not-quite-synced entries, not-quite-balanced textures, it felt hesitant rather than confident at times, and a way away from the first half’s energetic precision. He rounded things off in style, though, with a Bizet Symphony in C so wide-eyed and eager to please that it was impossible not to be entirely beguiled – even if Bloch made sure to inject some grown-up smoothness and sophistication in among all the youthful bustling embullience. Bloch’s passion and precision and the SCO’s instrumental brilliance make a fine partnership, and he’s already been booked to build on what looks like an inspiring relationship in a couple of the SCO concerts next season – a very wise decision.

Bizet's Symphony in C so wide-eyed and eager to please that it was impossible not to be beguiled

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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