Rowan Pierce (soprano), Jessica Gillingwater (mezzo-soprano), Hilary Summers (contralto), Martin Mitterutzner (tenor), Huw Montague Rendall (baritone), SCO Chorus, Scottish Chamber Orchestra / Laurence Equilbey (above, photo credit Julien Benhamou
City Halls, London
Friday 30 November 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture Op.21 (1826) and Incidental Music Op.61 (1842)
Die erste Walpurgisnacht (1844)
Written by Ben Hogwood
Four seasons in one day. That phrase could apply not just to the Glasgow weather on the last day in November, but also to this enticing pair of stage works beginning the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Tales of Mendelssohn series at City Halls. One, the composer’s music to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, is well known and loved, but the other, a setting of Goethe’s text for Die erste Walpurgisnacht, is barely heard – and made a strong dramatic impact here.
It was the well-known first, with Laurence Equilbey leading a winsome account of some wonderful incidental music. The Overture skimmed and shimmered into the half light, pressing forward with captivating energy – as did the following Scherzo. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra may have been missing a few of their principal players and regulars but that did not dampen their enthusiasm or ensemble, the music given a zestful quality under the encouragement of the stylish conducting of Equilbey.
The bright voices of the ladies of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus helped, too – and Ye spotted snakes received a charming account, especially with the clarity and control of soloists Rowan Pierce (above) and Jessica Gillingwater, both of whom sang beautifully. The Nocturne and Wedding March were charming too, the latter briskly dispatched, but if anything the lesser known Dance of Clowns and choral finale Through this house made an even stronger impression.
What a contrast between this music and that which began Die erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night). From the outset this was music of sturm und drang, of fire and brimstone, the composer seemingly relishing the opportunity to set Goethe’s text in a fiery context, interpreted as a barely concealed riposte to anti-Semitism.
The lean strings were quite a shock, as were the striking sonorities with the composer imaginatively doubling horn and bassoon. The tension went up a notch when the chorus joined, singing with real vehemence in the Chorus of the Druid Guards and Heathen People. The three soloists were excellent, too – the probing tone of tenor Martin Mitterutzner complemented by the fuller sound of Huw Montague Rendell (above), whose baritone carried effortlessly to the corners of the hall, and the rounded, velvety quality of Hilary Summers’ contralto.
This was a bracing and at times alarming account, exploring Mendelssohn’s choral writing with no stone unturned, passionately overseen by Equilbey, who clearly loves the piece. So much so that we had an encore of the Chorus of the Druid Guards and heathen People, the chorus deserving of their starring role again. There are two more installments to come in the Tales of Mendelssohn series this month – and if you have the chance they are warmly recommended, revealing contrasting aspects of this fascinating composer and the development of his style.
The music from this concert can be heard on the Spotify playlist below: