The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s partnership with Robin Ticciati, with a late-romantic repertoire, is rendered with great clarity with a smaller, classical-sized orchestra. Because they are a smaller ensemble, their performances lack the full-blooded sound and bombastic force of much larger orchestras. However, their more modest string section makes their sound much clearer and allows them to emphasise the finer details of the orchestration. This could not be any truer for their recording of the Schumann symphony cycle, where, like in any other recording of theirs, their playing is just as expressive and poignant even with a smaller-scale ensemble.
Schumann’s symphonies are an excellent showcase of a wide array of colours and emotions, from the shivering, wintry opening of the ‘Spring Symphony’ that promptly gives way to a jaunty theme of spring, to the august, solemn majesty of the cathedral music in the ‘Rhenish Symphony’ which is inspired by the installation ceremony of the Archbishop of Cologne as cardinal. What is striking about this recording is how clearly each individual voice in the orchestra is heard, and even details like triangles and piccolos or the shimmering string textures are never lost behind the energy or vitality of the music.
And on the matter of energy and vitality, the orchestra demonstrates a great deal in their enthusiasm for new life and warmer climes in the ‘Spring Symphony’, and even more athleticism and vigour in the opening of the ‘Fourth Symphony’, which after a stately, slow opening breaks quickly into a breath-taking, scherzo-like dance. The tempi are finely judged, and allow for the music to be deeply expressive, but equally lively and exciting. This is possibly never as clear as in the ‘Rhenish Symphony’, when the outer movements marked ‘lebhaft’ (‘lively’) are presented with an energy that is truly befitting of the ceaseless flow of a river but at the same time allows for a sense of the river’s scale and majesty. But it is the second movement that is the real portrait of the river, and the Orchestra presents this with great sensitivity. The careful balancing of the shimmering strings and the bright winds is a delightful characterisation of the river’s surface, as it ripples and twists across the Rheinland.
This recording of the Schumann cycle is an excellent showcase of the Orchestra as well as Ticciati’s many gifts, right from the poignant, poetic eloquence required for many of Schumann’s more melancholy slow movements, like in the ‘Second Symphony’, to the unstoppable energy that bursts forward in all of the scherzos. The Schumann cycle is well-suited to the Orchestra’s repertoire as it draws heavily from Beethoven, Schubert, Berlioz and Mendelssohn, all of whose works are well-established parts of the Orchestra’s repertoire. Incidentally, The SCO/Ticciati recording is one that can comfortably stand alongside the canonical recording of the cycle by Staatskapelle Dresden (conducted by Wolfgang Swallisch).