Live Reviews

EIF 2015 review: Oslo Phil 1

First published in The Herald on 17 August, 2015

Two nights, two Nordic folk epics. The Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra began its stay at the Edinburgh International Festival with Grieg’s music for the Ibsen play Peer Gynt. The previous night we heard Sibelius’s Kullervo from Edward Gardner and the RSNO. The performances were worlds apart: the Sibelius a fiery romp, a gush of Finnish patriotism; the Grieg lithe, pristine, chiselled, archetypical.

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EIF 2015 review: Kullervo, RSNO, Gardner

First published in the Guardian on 16 August, 2015

Sibelius was young and intense when he wrote Kullervo, an epic amalgam of symphony and cantata that he infused with such bombastic patriotism he would later look back and cringe. “This UrFinnishness has got into my flesh and blood,” he told his future wife while working on the score and boy, does the music let it show. Kullervo himself is a Finnish folk hero who accidentally seduces his sister then goes on a killing spree that culminates with himself. The piece was a major hit when it premiered in Helsinki in 1892; now, here, the dubious eroticism and blithe violence seem plain cartoonish — but the lusty drama of the music is irresistible in a performance as exciting as this.

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EIF 2015 review: The Marriage of Figaro

First published in the Guardian on 14 August, 2015

“Mozart’s music is extremely theatrical and his theatre is extremely musical,” writes Ivan Fischer, conductor and director of this Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFO) production. Searching for what he calls “an organic unity” between stage and score, Fischer ditches the pit and places cast and chorus in among the orchestra. The result? Intriguing initially, inspired occasionally, musically exciting in parts. But at heart this is a production so conservative it would never pass muster without the novelty stage layout.

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EIF 2015 review: Angela Hewitt

First published in The Herald on 14 August, 2015

Domenico Scarlatti was born in Naples in 1685 (same year as Bach and Handel; what a year) but lived more than half of his life in Spain and Portugal. His single-movement piano sonatas are like nothing else from that period or since — ultra-lush sonorities, rhythmic recklessness, boundless melodic invention — and though the Italians claim him, it was Iberian chord patterns and dance forms that more deeply influenced his bonkers, beautiful language.

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EIF 2015 review: The Rake’s Progress

First published in the Guardian on 13 August, 2015

This opera spins its magic on so many levels. The lithe neo-classicism of Stravinsky’s score; the deft, poignant wit of Auden and Kallman’s verse; the moral take-home of Hogarth’s stern allegorical paintings and the modern commentary it becomes. Thomas Ades once described the piece as a flower whose many miraculous layers are there to be peeled back. Performances can be high comedy or dry moralising; the best accounts reveal a rare emotional tenderness that Stravinsky lets slip, though he never liked to admit it.

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EIF 2015 review: The Last Hotel

First published in the Guardian on 11 August, 2015

This is a potently compact, searingly powerful new chamber work in which death hangs over every move — the titular hotel is a shabby establishment where guests go to commit suicide. Written and directed by Enda Walsh, it’s a devastating indictment of societal preoccupations and a heartbreaking portrayal of loneliness and loveless relationships. Walsh is a master of loading up innocuous lines — “two keys will be fine”; “coupons to gain access to the internet” — with tragic banality.  One character can dream only of home extensions, another sings dismally of corporate events and eating disorders. Dialogue begins in awkward speech then switches abruptly to song when we enter the murky hyperreality of the hotel. It’s jarring, but it works.

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EIF 2015 review: Buchbinder 3

First published in the Guardian on 11 August, 2015

There is never much downtime with Rudolf Buchbinder. The indefatigable 68-year-old Viennese pianist plays Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas across nine concerts at this year’s Edinburgh International Festival: it’s a marathon he has run nearly 50 times before, and by the looks of things he could do it 50 times again without breaking sweat. At his third concert he left barely a breath between sonatas, let alone movements, and hurtled through most of it at fearless speeds. The brio was impressive and very bracing, but I often found myself longing for all of the wondrous detail we were clattering past along the way.

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EIF 2015 review: Modigliani Quartet

First published in The Herald on 12 August, 2015

Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was just too early in the morning. This recital by France’s Quatuor Modigliani took time to settle, but when it did — after the interval with Dohnanyi’s gorgeously rich-hued Third String Quartet — the playing was focused, ballsy and eloquent. Second violinist Loic Rio snapped a string in the finale, but if anything the group’s playing was at its most free and charismatic when they trooped back on to complete the piece, pressure dissipated, string mended and (presumably) coffee kicked in.

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Review: Kellie Consort

First published in The Herald on 4 August, 2015

The Kellie Consort arrives on the scene with the irrefutable if not entirely sexy epithet of ‘Scotland’s only pre-professional baroque ensemble’. Imagine an under-25s version of the Dunedin Consort with stabilisers still on. Its director, Tom Wilkinson, is a PhD student of Dunedin’s John Butt and a diligent, sensitive musician with the kind of energetic enthusiasm that makes things happen. At St Andrew’s, where he is university organist, he has injected new clout into the Chapel Choir by delving into archive repertoire and pursuing a self-run record label.

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Review: JLA’s Across the Distance

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First published in the Guardian on 7 July, 2015

“Can music resonate with the world around us, and yet still create a world of its own?” This is a typical question posed by the composer John Luther Adams, and his own music resolutely answers it: yes. JLA’s outdoor works make us hear our environment as much as the notes themselves. He calls the process ‘ecological listening’, and though he dislikes the term ‘political art’ (“bad art, bad politics,” he once told me), his nature pieces are eco activism by stealth. It’s a simple strategy and it works: the more we pay attention to our environment, the more we might care about it.

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