Live Reviews

EIF 2015 review: Iestyn Davies & Ensemble Guadagni

First published on 19 August, 2015

There are occasions when a scratch ensemble sounds like nothing more or less. Then there are occasions — this was one — when being thrown together can work wonders in fresh spirit and ultra-intent listening. Countertenor Iestyn Davies did a Wigmore Hall recital with a group called Ensemble Guadagni a few years ago: same name, different players. Yesterday’s programme of Purcell and John Blow featured a crack bunch of baroque music instrumentalists, led by violinist Bojan Cicic and powered from the harpsichord by Richard Egarr. A pair of recorders included the mighty Pamela Thorby, ever bold and rich-toned, while Alison McGillivray provided stylish, supple gamba lines and William Carter wove filigree textures and rhythmic thrust from guitar and theorbo. I could have listened all day to their exuberant, supremely sensitive playing in Purcell’s Fantasia: Three Parts on a Ground.

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EIF 2015 review: Buchbinder 7

First published in The Herald on 19 August, 2015

If there were doubts about the Playfair Library being the right venue for Rudolf Buchbinder’s Beethoven cycle — would fine details carry in such a high and narrow space? Would the sirens hurtling up and down Nicolson Street shatter the peace? — they should have been assuaged by now. From the various places I’ve sat during these concerts the sound has been loud and clear. The ornate vaulted ceiling lends a majesty to proceedings, and anyway: Buchbinder’s sturdy attack can cope with the sirens.

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EIF 2015 review: Richard Egarr

First published in The Herald on 19 August, 2015

A Richard Egarr recital is rarely relaxing. High octane, muscular, a rush of blood to the head, yes; relaxing, no. The Amsterdam-based harpsichordist (and conductor; on Sunday he’s at the helm of Scottish Opera’s HMS Pinafore) blustered onto stage, bobbed about to find the sweet spot on the harpsichord stool and raised a cheeky eyebrow to the audience. There was an edge of slight chaos in the air. Repeats in the music seemed to be dropped at random; ends of movements were often slap-dash or downright abrupt. Moments of calm between the storm arrived unannounced — but when they did arrive they were suddenly stark, raw and searching.

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EIF 2015 review: Buchbinder 6

First published in The Herald on 19 August, 2015

Rudolf Buchbinder’s cycle of Beethoven piano sonatas approaches its final third — and it does have the feel of a very measurable marathon, ticking off mileposts and landmarks along the way. There go the Tempest, the Moonlight, the Hammerklavier: tick tick tick. In this sixth concert the tally reached 22 sonatas, so ten more to go. It feels outrageous to count up such emotionally momentous music in so callous a way; each one of these sonatas is a minor miracle in formal invention and expressive depths. But somehow Buchbinder’s impassive delivery invites an impassive response. The august clock of the Playfair Library hangs above his piano, and he charges on as though he can’t escape its gaze.

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EIF 2015 review: Sarah Connolly & Malcolm Martineau

First published in The Herald on 18 August, 2015

“Thank you all for being here,” said mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly before her encore — a breezy Dominic Muldowney setting of In Paris with You, worth it alone for that inspired James Fenton line: ‘sod off to sodding Notre Dame’. “I know,” Connolly added, “that it was an early start for all of us…” Plenty of singers balk at the 9am warm-up call for Queen’s Hall morning recitals. Big voices can take hours to limber up; whole day-long routines are often shifted to the wee hours accordingly. Yet Connolly gives the impression she wouldn’t make a fuss of anything much. Few singers can match her solid authority, collected grace and unfussy insight.

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EIF 2015 review: Oslo Phil 2

First published in the Guardian on 17 August, 2015

Vasily Petrenko’s stony expression spoke volumes. He had just conducted the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra in a dauntless account of Sibelius’s First Symphony, every theme unfolded with steel-clad logic. The Scherzo had been acrid, the Andante haunted and soul-searching. The closing bars were so weighty, so intensely loaded, that they implied not only the inescapable doomed heroism of the symphony’s cyclical arch but also the start of something altogether bigger: a grave upbeat to Sibelius’s whole symphonic future with all the desolate and wondrous places it would lead. Into this ultra-charged moment came a smattering of hasty clapping which fizzled into excruciatingly awkward silence before the applause proper began. Petrenko was not amused, though he did cheer up enough to deliver a pair of deadpan encores: Sibelius’s Valse triste and a razor-sharp, caustic romp through Grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King.

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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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