Friday 11 May 2007

Festival 2005, part II

It's been a little while, and far longer than you'd imagine it would take to copy and paste some old posts from one forum to another (albeit with minor revisions). However, for any who may have been waiting, here is week two of the 2005 Edinburgh International Festival (please note, this link currently appears to be broken), first posted over at the Naim forum. Once again, revisions are italicised.

Sunday 21st saw the first real turkey. The Tchiakovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio came. Despite having played rather well in Swan Lake all week (or at least the performance I saw) they were terrible. It wasn’t just that the tones were poor and muddy, or that the horn section were woefully inadequate, no, they managed the hard task of making the Eroica dull, very dull. Of course, there are some who can get away with taking the symphony slowy: Furtwangler in Vienna in 1944 or Jochum in his magnificent LSO reading. But a conductor takes it this slowly at their peril because if they can't deliver that magic, the result can be desperate. In the second half, a suite from War and Piece was better (thought the waltz didn’t really sound like a waltz) and in moments of the 1812 overture they displayed some polish (in what was clearly something of party piece for the orchestra). Sadly it’s not a very good piece of music.

Tuesday saw Sir Charles Mackerras’s second concert (again with the SCO and Trost). The second half was Mozart’s unfinished Zaide, which was interesting, though very definitely not the composer’s best work. Since it features melodrama (spoken text interspersed with music), we got one of Mozart’s inspirations, Ariadne auf Naxos (by Benda) in the first half, which was excellent (but then I always like to see something new).

Wednesday, and the Rotterdam Philharmonic came with Blomstedt. I saw him last year with a Leipzig orchestra and was disappointed. This year he played Tchiak 4 (which was very good) and a rather less good sinfonia concertante (which he didn’t play nearly lyrically enough for Mozart).

Thursday, and we had Scottish Opera and John Adams’ controversial Death of Klinghoffer. It’s good to see them doing something, and doing it so well, given they’ve virtually gone under over the last two years, they’ve got virtually nothing programmed over the next year as it is. Anyway, the work was very powerful, and fascinating, and, to be honest, I really can’t understand why it upsets people so much, it’s not as though it condones terrorism. It was very well staged with members of the chorus being ‘kidnapped' from the auditorium during the hijack. The music is typical Adams, but good and highly atmospheric. The heavily electrified score circles round in an appropriately claustrophobic manner. The diction was a little poor, but the libretto was good (what could be heard). I’d be interested now to see Nixon in China (or his new opera Dr Atomic, about the Manhattan project). I am told this is coming to ENO for the 2008 season. Good though that will be, it would have been really fine to hear the premier which was in San Francisco conducted, of course, by one Donald Runnicles.

Friday saw the return of the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra (sadly absent from last year’s festival). One shouldn’t be fooled by the label of ‘youth orchestra’, these guys are amazing. Established by Abbado in the 80s as both a follow-on for pupils of his EU youth orchestra and also as a means of fostering cooperation between east and west Europe. This combination of a large number of countries the players are drawn from and their age being greater than most youth orchestras (up to 26), makes for an outstanding band. Interestingly, what struck me about them two years ago was the quality of the brass playing (I think I’ve rarely heard it so good), this time the brass were less good but the strings were outstanding. Ingo Metzmacher gave us a Strauss tone poem (can’t recall which one - anyone thinking that in revising this I would look it up would be right, sadly I can't track down my programme and the the 2005 and 2006 archives have vanised from the EIF website), followed by songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn, though the singer (Goerne) wasn’t sufficiently audible, the orchestral playing was wonderful (particularly in the two songs that use the same music as the middle movements of the second symphony). The second half was a good reading of Bruckner 6. Sadly the work suffers from the same problem as much of his writing, namely it gets a little repetitive at times, it is also one of his many works in which he neglected to save the best for last. That said, if you get the chance, go and see this lot. I don't really agree with the penultimate sentence anymore. In many ways, Bruckner's 6th is now a firm favourite. But in the intervening time I have discovered both Eugen Jochum's wonderful recording with the Dresden Staatskapelle and had a performance last year from the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under who else but Runnicles. Given that, I don't know whether I would prefer the reading now or whether I would think that Metzmacher didn't quite pull it off. What a shame I'll never know.

Saturday and it was Beethoven: the Mass in C as well as Christ on the Mount of Olives (Beethoven’s only oratorio). I don’t know either work at all but Robertson and the RSNO played them wonderfully, and for once the festival chorus were pretty good (they often suffer from having far too few men). If anyone knows of good recordings of each of these, please let me know. Actually, I've recently, well, in the Christmas sales, picked up a recording from Giulini and the Philharmonia to which I've not got round to listening. At least, I thought that was who was conducting. It was on a 3 disc Brilliant Classics set in which Giulini led both the Missa Solemnis and the Mass in c and the only name on the box was Giulni's. However, unwrapping it now to check, I notice that the price label was obscuring another another name on the back corner: Helmuth Rilling, of whom I've never heard. I must give it a listen, but the discovery that Giulini is not involved in Christ on the Mount of Olives is something of a disappointment. So those recommendations may still be required.

Week 3, which was dominated by a 5 day residence by the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra under Nott, to follow. Also worth noting, I've only commented on the main evening concerts and not the morning concerts in the Queen's Hall (which feature mainly chamber music), but I may get round to them in due course. I did, though in rather less detail, and they will be posted here in due course.

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