United Kingdom Muhly, Haydn, Britten: Allan Clayton (tenor), Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Pekka Kuusisto (violin / director). Queen’s Corridor, Edinburgh, 16.3.2023. (SRT)
Muhly – Three Songs for Tenor and Violin; Violin Concerto ‘Shrink’ (Scottish premiere)
Haydn – Symphony No.104 ‘London’
Britten – Les Illuminations
Pekka Kuusisto has earned his stripes with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. He isn’t only a virtuoso violinist; he’s a top-notch conductor too, and his programmes are so initially conceived and daringly thought by way of that he now has a daily slot within the SCO’s season.
Two slots this 12 months, in truth. After final week’s (barely quixotic) pairing of a Janáček quartet and a few Appalachian people songs, this week noticed him again at his free-thinking finest with a programme that one way or the other managed to attract hyperlinks between Haydn, Britten and Nico Muhly, and all with the help of certainly one of Britain’s most interesting singers. Allow us to start on the finish, with a heart-stoppingly good efficiency of Les Illuminations during which the orchestra moved as one, the conductor’s imaginative and prescient was excitingly conceived, and the singer sounded supercharged. So just about excellent, then.
Allan Clayton is such a terrific vocal actor that something he sings turns into a miniature opera, even when it’s the mysterious surrealism of Rimbaud that so vividly caught Britten’s creativeness. He sang with vocal energy to pin you to the again of your seat within the opening Fanfare, however the voice is at all times so lively and vigour that I think you’d really feel compelled if he was simply singing his buying record. The seascape of Marine and the townscape of Villes each pulsed with seemingly unstoppable life, whereas the slower songs had a contact of alluring magnificence that appeared to make us listeners co-conspirators in an act of seduction. Kuusisto, directing from the Chief’s chair, solid the SCO strings right into a sound that was each terrifically wealthy and wonderfully thrilling, however which additionally appeared to inform every tune as its personal distinct story. The arrogance of the Fanfare appeared to soften palpably throughout the Interlude, and the ultimate Départ felt like probably the most tender leave-taking conceivable. I’m a sucker for this work in nearly any efficiency – it captures the younger Britten at his best possible – however I’m positive I’ve by no means heard a efficiency that held me so completely gripped all through.
Clayton was each bit as compelling in Nico Muhly’s Three Songs, the place the readability of his articulation meant that each phrase of the textual content was invested with its personal life. That was significantly true in Half III the place Muhly units solely chosen phrases of the poem giving it a fragmented, surreal high quality. Paradoxically, in Clayton’s fingers, that made it extra compelling and extra involving than any typical storytelling might do. Muhly scores the songs for drone, performed right here with seductive magnificence on the harmonics of the SCO strings, over which Kuusisto’s solo violin danced and jigged to nuzzle the music forwards.
And that’s the place the hyperlink to Haydn is available in, as a result of the finale of his London Symphony famously begins with a drone of its personal, however it could actually not often have sounded so crunch and messy because it did right here, a wakeup name worthy of that within the Shock symphony. This got here as the tip level of a terrifically strong efficiency that was peppered with particular person touches like cheeky pauses or modern tempo adjustments, Kuusisto discovering contemporary issues even in probably the most acquainted work of Papa Haydn.
I cherished Muhly’s Violin Concerto considerably much less, although. Shrink was written for and devoted to Kuusisto, and it displays his character very successfully as a result of it’s a fizzing ball of vitality that appears to shoot out in each course because it unfolds. Generally as a burst of city vigour, harking back to Britten’s Villes, and at others a bewitching net of mild harmonies and misty textures. The issue is that it not often appears to know its personal thoughts: the piece is so episodic that it by no means appears to settle. Muhly writes that it’s based mostly round a collection of various intervals that progressively come into focus, however the focus by no means fairly appears to reach. That’s an issue with lots of Muhly’s work: its element elements are thrilling and various, however for me it not often coheres. I loved this live performance higher as a car for Kuusisto’s virtuosity slightly than as a musical argument in itself. Nonetheless, that carries a pleasure of its personal, and I’m already excited to see what Kuusisto brings with him on his subsequent go to.
The live performance was recorded for the BBC Radio 3 in Live performance collection and can be broadcast on 21 March 2023.