Music

Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Peter Whelan, review: Katie Bray provides an injection of purest musical joy


We’ve all got the measure of this online concert business now. Arty establishing shots of concert halls; slightly awkward introductions by conductors and soloists; efficient performances with too many close-ups. But then along comes a concert so full of energy, so beautifully framed and shot that you finally forget the digital barrier and get swept up in the sheer joy of it all.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra are one of lockdown’s musical heroes, turning out a steady stream of free concerts over the past few months that have really hit the spot – everything from Anna Clyne to Tchaikovsky.

Perhaps it’s the camaraderie of musicians playing under the direction of the group’s former Principal Bassoon Peter Whelan, perhaps it’s Whelan’s own obvious delight in the music, or maybe just the exuberance of the works themselves – the look-at-me glee of Mozart’s Linz Symphony, Bologne’s good-natured Overture to L’amant anonyme and Handel’s dazzling opening to Acis and Galatea. Whatever it is, the alchemy here is as obvious as it is irresistible.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Katie Bray (Photo: Sco.org.uk)

This second performance of the Bologne by a major orchestra in as many weeks suggests that the moment has finally arrived for the composer who, in his day, was more celebrated than Mozart himself. The rivalry is rekindled here, setting the two in direct comparison.

If Mozart wins, it’s only by sheer variety: the freshness and operatic rhetoric of the symphony, brass just roughing up the edges, keeping things from getting too polite; the opulent, anachronistic delight of his Handel-orchestration, smoky clarinets sexing up straight-faced baroque semiquavers; finally the brilliance of his writing for voice.

Mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, winner of the Audience Prize at the 2019 Cardiff Singer of the World competition, joins the orchestra for two showpieces: Sesto’s grand outpouring “Parto, parto ma tu ben mio” from La Clemenza di Tito and the ecstatic Laudamus Te from the C minor Mass. Bray is a superb singing-actress, catching the controlled desperation of the aria, urged on by Maximiliano Martin’s obbligato clarinet, before releasing into the unbounded exhilaration of the Laudamus – an injection of purest musical joy.

Streaming on YouTube



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