Reviews

Review: Ensemble musikFabrik

First published on the Guardian on 29 August, 2013

Ensemble musikFabrik
Usher Hall, Edinburgh

With celebrations of his music at the Proms and Edinburgh within the space of a few weeks, Frank Zappa is looking suspiciously establishment. “I think it’s really tragic when people get serious about stuff,” he quipped back in the 1970s – the problem for any interpreters of his music being that his fiendish ensemble writing needs a serious ensemble to pull it off.

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Review: Zukerman Chamber Players

First published in The Herald on 29 August, 2013

Zukerman Chamber Players
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Israeli violinist/violist/conductor Pinchas Zukerman founded his roving Chamber Players about a decade ago with musicians from the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, where he is music director. One of these musicians (the marketing blurb calls them his ‘protégés’, which seems a tad demeaning) is NACO principal cellist and Zukerman’s wife, Amanda Forsyth. And for the centrepiece of their Queen’s Hall recital, Zukerman and Forsyth played Kodaly’s Duo for violin and cello – a passionate, folk-infused work whose thick-set Hungarian themes and fiery temper suited the big, burnished sound that they make together. It was by far the highlight of the morning.

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Review: Tod Machover’s Festival City

First published in the Guardian on 29 August, 2013

RSNO/Oundjian
Usher Hall, Edinburgh

There had been a lot of chat around Tod Machover’s new orchestral work, Festival City. It has the technical might of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) behind it, the financial clout of an Edinburgh International Festival commission and a trendy composition process that blends interactive crowd sourcing and classical sampling. But at its premiere by Peter Oundjian and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra last night, the 11-minute novelty piece didn’t add up to all that much.

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Review: Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich with David Zinman

First published in the Guardian on 28 August, 2013

Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich/Zinman
Usher Hall, Edinburgh

It was as logical and polished a performance as you could ask for – but then there’s more to A German Requiem, Brahms’s radical paean to humanity, than logic and polish. The Zurich Tonhalle are a glossy ensemble, no question, and in the second of two Edinburgh International Festival concerts they sounded light on their feet and impressively disciplined. David Zinman, the 77-year-old American who’s been their artistic director since 1995 and who steps down at the end of next season, conducted with brisk, tidy gestures that the orchestra responded to with cool prowess. The Edinburgh Festival Chorus sang with warmth, clout and clear consonants. Altogether they sounded a well-oiled machine and Zinman paced them at a fair clip; there was no danger of this Requiem becoming dirge-like or indulgent. But it was only really the two excellent soloists – soprano Rachel Harnisch and baritone Florian Boesch – who infused their lines with much palpable emotional wrangling.

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Review: Arditti Quartet

First published in The Herald on 28 August, 2013

Arditti Quartet
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Heard in isolation, the performance of Janacek’s First String Quartet (the ‘Kreutzer Sonata’) that opened this concert might have been mystifying. The Arditti Quartet atomised the score into melodic, rhythmic and sonic segments then blurted them in plain-spoken outbursts. There was none of the usual lushness or folksiness that most quartets bring to Janacek, nor did the textures really synthesise or flow. The point was to treat the Kreutzer as fierce experimentalism – the Ardittis’ speciality – which worked and didn’t. Some of Janacek’s ardent melodies were too stripped of beauty to communicate. But as a way of exposing just how radical his music still sounds today, let alone 90 years ago when it was new, this performance was revelatory.

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Review: Hebrides Ensemble with Thomas Bloch

First published in The Herald on 27 August, 2013

Hebrides Ensemble/Thomas Bloch
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

It looks like a glass doner kebab that’s been turned on its side and trussed up with gold ribbons. It sounds a bit like a miniature mechanical pipe organ or a very breathy celeste. Legend once told that it could induce premature births and send you bonkers – which is probably why Donizetti originally used it for the mad scene in Lucia di Lammermoor. The glass harmonica is an archaic oddity, but it has its modern-day champions including French ondes-Martenot/glass harmonic specialist Thomas Bloch, who joined the Hebrides for this intriguing, bizarrely enchanting programme.

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Review: Pierre-Laurent Aimard

First published in The Herald on 27 August, 2013

Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Gyorgy Ligeti dedicated several of his piano Etudes to Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the great French pianist whose interpretations of these wonderful pieces remain definitive. This solo Queen’s Hall recital was the last of his three concerts at the International Festival; together they brought home Aimard’s extraordinary breadth, diligence, fearless physical stamina and (above all) musical integrity. His playing can be technically ferocious and expressively flamboyant when the music demands it, but there’s nothing remotely showy in what he does: it’s always about the music, never about Aimard himself.

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Review: Dido and Aeneas and Bluebeard’s Castle

First published in the Guardian on 26 August, 2013

Dido and Aeneas/Bluebeard’s Castle
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

These operas don’t normally go together. Their tragic heroines sing music composed more than 200 years apart. One is festooned in pretty pink, paralysed by claustrophobia and love sickness; the other wears glossy black and paces an open stage in pursuit of dark truths. In his courageous and fascinating pairing of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Bartok’s Bluebeard Castle, director Barrie Kosky inverts our expectations, doesn’t force parallels and treats the power dynamics of the central couples with an unusually even hand so that we’re left pondering the murky nature of victimhood. Frankfurt Opera’s stylish production has its flaws, but overall succeeds in exactly the way that a double-bill should: it makes sense of each half and shines new light on both.

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Review: Christophe Rousset

First published in The Herald on 26 August, 2013

Christophe Rousset
St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh

“I promise not to break the harpsichord,” Christophe Rousset said with a twinkle in his eye as he sat down to play the first of two encores. The instrument in question was a certain Taskin 1769 – the prize of Edinburgh University’s Russell Collection and arguably the most famous harpsichord in the world. Rousset called it ‘mythical’, though that didn’t stop him from hammering out a show-piece by Pancrace Royer (contemporary of Rameau) called Vertigo, a bit like a double-time French baroque version of Chopsticks. There’s something impish about Rousset. Surrounded by so many special keyboard instruments he was every bit the connoisseur, of course, but also like a kid in a sweetie shop. You got the impression he’d have played all night if they’d let him.

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Review: Ian Bostridge and Lars Vogt

First published in The Herald on 23 August, 2013

Bostridge/Vogt
Usher Hall, Edinburgh

It was worth coming to this concert if only to hear Schumann’s beautiful but rarely performed Kernerlieder. These 12 delicate songs from 1840 don’t really form a cycle in the same way that Dichterliebe and Frauenliebe und -leben do, but as a set they can cast a heart-rending spell and they showed the best of Ian Bostridge in what was generally a pretty mixed recital.

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