April 2, 2023


The Tour And Travel Enthusiasts

Edinburgh Festival Opening Concert review: BBC SO/Stasevska, four stars

3 min read
Edinburgh Festival Opening Concert review: BBC SO/Stasevska, four stars

Edinburgh Academy Junior School

Keith Bruce

four stars

IT is, of course, no rival to Edinburgh’s august Usher Hall, but the open-sided pavilion that the Edinburgh International Festival’s Roy Luxford, technical boss John Robb and their team have built in school grounds north of the New Town is a very fine response to desperate times.

The largest and most substantially-constructed tent many who visit it will ever have been in, with a proper floor and comfortable, socially-distanced, seating, it boasts full lighting and sound rigs and a good-sized stage. The necessary separation of the rows of seating means that sightlines are fine, despite the lack of any rake on the seating, even if those at the back are a long way from the musicians.

From my position, a little less than half-way back, the sound quality was also very good. Amplification is being used, and my guess is that some of its lack of subtlety at the first event will swiftly be ironed out, while none of the difficulties that reached my ears fatally damaged enjoyment of the music.

In familiar EIF Opening Concert style, this was not in any way a predictable back-with-a-bang programme. In another year the mere fact of having the same orchestra (the BBC Symphony Orchestra) and conductor (Dalia Stasevska) as had opened the London Proms a week earlier would surely have been avoided, but that Royal Albert Hall concert was a much more obvious return to the stage in its repertoire.

This one did begin with a fanfare, the brass at the start of Anna Clyne’s new work PIVOT preceding the strings launching into a work that makes much use of traditional Scottish music and the rhythms for country dancing. The piece is named for an Edinburgh hostelry, now the Royal Oak, known for its trad sessions, and it more than once brought to mind Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’s Orkney Wedding. Shame that the closing bar lacked the “snap” Stasevska so clearly intended.

Respighi’s Botticelli Triptych, a sort of mini “pictures at an exhibition”, is less heard than his Roman Trilogy, and the central depiction of the Nativity, making much use of the tune of the early carol O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, was particularly unseasonal, but the composer’s sparkling orchestration proved the worth of the acoustic shell around the players, the nuances of the string colours projecting beautifully to the audience.

Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, composed for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes dates from only a few years earlier and also makes great use of earlier music, particularly Pergolesi. The orchestra was joined by English mezzo Rosie Aldridge, Tongan tenor Filipe Manu and Glaswegian bass-baritone Michael Mofidian and the use of the microphones was a small issue, with Manu’s delivery more targeted towards his and the full-voiced Aldridge having less need of one than either male voice. Their first ensemble was a little ragged, probably simply a result of insufficient rehearsal time together, but the whole work retained the sense of irreverent fun that the composer clearly brought to his source material.