Scottish CO/De Ridder, Queens Hall, Edinburgh <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra's "Adventurer" series of concerts must be one of the best things to hit Scottish music in recent years. Instead of the usual diet of Haydn and Beethoven, these offer intriguing and challenging music by modern composers.

The evening began with Judith Weir's Heroic Strokes of the Bow, from 1992. This piece, based on a painting by Paul Klee, has the pleasant fantasy that is now her trademark, like a sophisticated fairy tale. The oddest thing about it is the title: its short detached notes and busy passages give the violinists little chance for "heroic strokes". But there is always something surprising about this composer's pieces, which eschew mere trivial effect.

Weir's work was a late addition to the programme and the conductor, André de Ridder, spent much of his time shepherding the players. The miracles began with Nielsen's Clarinet Concerto. The soloist, Maximiliano Martin, who is also principal clarinet in the orchestra, has that mixture of snakecharmer and mountebank you see in some clarinettists. The virtuosity is not stressed; notes seem to come out of nowhere. But this complex work is hard to make lilt and laugh, and De Ridder was again solicitously shepherding.

Henri Dutilleux's Mystère de l'Instant is supposed to be a sort of improvisation, according to its composer. In fact, it sounds scrupulously contrived, and here, at last, De Ridder acquired warmth and grandeur. The work is both visionary and gestural; it was an apt foil to the Weir piece, for Dutilleux's imagination, with its clarity and refinement, goes also for ordinary sonic effect, like music for a radio play. Dutilleux calls his music "a ceremony of mystery and magic", but it is also an enthralling parade of strange noises.

There were also - of all things - some Schumann piano pieces orchestrated by the philosopher Theodor Adorno. Adorno was one of the last century's greatest minds. But he was no orchestrator, and he reduced Schumann's winsome tribute to Mendelssohn to a graveyard rumble and gave the melody of "May, Sweet May" to the second violins. The orchestra looked puzzled: and who wouldn't be?