SCO/Swensen review – John McLeod concerto brims with energy

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
McLeod’s Nordic Fire was created for principal violist Jane Atkins, but the Scottish Chamber Orchestra shared in the brilliance of the writing

Scottish composer John McLeod is enjoying something of a renaissance these days. At 80 he had a work premiered at the BBC Proms. Now, four years later, he has written a concerto for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s principal viola player, Jane Atkins. In Nordic Fire, McLeod has produced a work brimming with energy and vibrant orchestral colour.

It is both the viola’s gift and its curse that it sits at the centre of the orchestral sonority; it can be a challenge for the solo instrument to hold its own against massed orchestral forces. At times, McLeod seems to take his cue from Berlioz, who in Harold in Italy turns his solo viola into a wanderer-poet, watching and commenting on the action rather than participating in it. While McLeod creates moments of display for the soloist, these are often unaccompanied passages, such as the striking cadenza that opens the work. Elsewhere, the piece takes on the character of a concerto for orchestra, with the brilliance of the writing shared between orchestral sections.

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