Monday, 30 January 2012

Scottish Chamber Orchestra Ligeti series

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra under their youthful and highly talented Principal Conductor, Robin Ticciati,are performing a mini-series of Ligeti this January, with concert performances repeated in both Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Ligeti is perhaps most widely known for his large-scale works from the1960s such as Requiem and Lux Aeterna as these are used in the soundtracks of Stanley Kubrick's films, most notably 2001: A Space Odyssey. His work for solo piano has also been popularised, albeit perhaps to a more specialist audience though its advocacy by Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who was to join the SCO later this week. Please read review here.  The focus of these particular Ligeti performances is to champion not only the composer himself, who is arguably underappreciated. This gives the listener the opportunity to broaden their appreciation of this composer's chamber output. The forthcoming performance is of that composer's Chamber Concerto for 13 Instruments; last Saturday's performance (Queen's Hall, Edinburgh) featured the 1999 Hamburg Concerto for horn.

This remarkable work consists of a series of 14 very short movements over 15 minutes' total duration, in a wide range of styles. It uses natural harmonics between the solo horn and a quartet of four natural (valveless) horns in the orchestra, giving 'dirty' harmonies which create the very characteristic sound which distinguishes Ligeti's larger works. It has their distinctive sound, whilst also having the compact succinctness of the piano etudes.

It was a night of young high fliers as the evening's soloist, Principal Horn Alec Frank-Gemmill, who already has a string of recordings to his name, is only 26 years of age. He and Robin Ticciati had an obvious rapport which made their skilful performance of this challenging work all the more enjoyable. Further information about the work is given on the orchestra's helpful and informative website where both conductor and soloist give their views on it.

The quality of the orchestra's sound, which was crisp and clear in Edinburgh's Queen's Hall, was apparent from the outset and the opening Kodaly showcased their talents and those of their principal conductor. Brass and flutes particularly shone in this opening work. The multi-talented Ticciati, who also plays violin, percussion and piano was encouraged to conduct and learnt from both Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Colin Davis. Remembering as I do (very fondly) the CBSO's tours to London, this conductor easily reminds me of a young Simon Rattle. He has increased both the standard and the repertoire of this orchestra and this is an ambitious programme for him to offer. Ligeti, although he emigrated to the West, was born in Transylvania on the borders of what are now Romania and Hungary. He attended the Budapest Conservatory, where he met and developed a friendship with Kurtag. The concert's programming, subtitled From the Steppes of Central Europe placed his music alongside that of fellow Central Europeans Kodaly (an early influence on Ligeti), whose Dances of Galanta opened the concert and Dvorak, whose Fifth Symphony formed its second half. This enabled the listener to place Ligeti's music in a context of time and place and to see its occasional common ground as well as its obvious differences. For more, see here.

By Juliet Williams

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