Playlist: SCO and Mackerras

James Jolly Thu 1st March 2018

The relationship between the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and conductor Charles Mackerras

Brahms from Robin Ticciati with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra inevitably stirs up memories of Sir Charles Mackerras’s Brahms recordings from 1997, but rather than choose part of that set, I suggest Sir Charles’s 1998 SCO recording of the First Serenade, one that emerged with glowing colours from Andrew Farach-Colton’s Gramophone Collection last May. It was Mackerras – who enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with the SCO – who instilled into the orchestra a style of playing that was truly ‘historically aware’. The earliest repertoire they recorded together was the music of Handel, and, joined by Bryn Terfel, they produced a collection of remarkable subtlety from players and singer alike. The music of Mozart seemed to draw from Mackerras a very special quality of insight and expression, and he and the SCO recorded a lot of Mozart together, including many of the operas, the Requiem, concertos and symphonies. Of the operas that came off the page beautifully were Idomeneo and Le nozze di Figaro. The EMI recording of Idomeneo featured Ian Bostridge in the title-role, admirable supported by a cast that included Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Lisa Milne, Barbara Frittoli and Anthony Rolfe Johnson. It was a recording that led Stanley Sadie to superlatives: ‘this new set, enshrining Mackerras’s profound and mature understanding of the music, is the most moving performance of the opera, perhaps of any opera, that I have heard on records, and I urge readers to buy it.’ The Telarc Figaro, with a strong cast of Alastair Miles, Nuccia Focile, Alessandro Corbelli, Carol Vaness and Susanne Mentzer is a real ensemble production, strongly cast and, interestingly (and authentically) with a vocally lower-lying Figaro than Count. Mackerras keeps everything fizzing and never neglects the darker elements of the rich piece. As SS wrote at the time: ‘if this isn’t the most polished or most beautifully sung Figaro to be had, it is undoubtedly one of the liveliest and most dramatic and I cannot imagine anyone listening to it without coming away uplifted in spirit’. Equally rewarding, and still with Mozart, were the piano concertos Mackerras recorded with Alfred Brendel. In K271 and K503, and K466 and 491, these two great Mozartians dig deep, bringing out so much character in this infinitely rewarding music.

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