25 August, 2011

Review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Photo: Chris Christodoulou  
By Jane Compton

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra, led by Principal Conductor Robin Ticciati, opened the concert on 21 August at the Usher Hall with a flawless performance of the four movement orchestrated version of Ravel’s  Le tombeau de Couperin.  One of the composer’s most personal works, Ravel’s tribute to friends who died fighting in the First World War is styled upon a Baroque dance suite.  An entertaining start to the evening, the prominence given to the melancholy tones of the oboe served as a reminder of this lively music’s underlying memorial nature.
This was followed by the world premiere of the EIF commission Blossoming II, a compellingly beautiful short piece of music for chamber orchestra by the internationally renowned Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa that he based loosely on his 2007 string quartet Blossoming.  An important aspect of Hosokawa’s aesthetic and his originality is that he seeks to fuse the sounds of the natural world with music in a very close relationship. 
In this work the stages of growth and decay of a lotus, a symbol denoting the essence of enlightenment in Buddhism, are meticulously charted.  The journey begins when the plant stem is ascending purposefully up through the murky depths of the water towards the surface where it will finally emerge and reveal its existence.
Hosokawa’s unique musical language was interpreted with care and attention to detail by Ticciati, and realised with precision by the SCO musicians who used western instruments to produce sounds that were often eerie and other-worldly. Delicate, wispy music introduced by the strings materialised out of the silence in one long, sustained note in the middle register that represented the surface of a pond.  Sounds lower than this note echoed the plant’s energy under the water and sounds that were higher portrayed the world above.  The rapturous applause afterwards intensified when the Japanese composer briefly appeared on stage to take a bow. 
For the final part of the programme the SCO were joined by over a hundred young singers aged 16 to 24 from the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and by two soloists, baritone Simon Keenlyside and mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch who replaced Magdalena Kožená at short notice.  During the superb rendition of Duruflé’s atmospheric nine part Requiem the excellent acoustics of the grand auditorium were fully exploited as the singers’ voices soared upwards in a series of crescendos that delighted the audience.  
For those who missed a wonderful evening there will be another chance to hear the music on 15 September 2011 when it is broadcast as Performance on Three on BBC Radio 3 (90 – 93 FM).  The SCO will bring the Edinburgh International Festival to a dramatic finale on Sunday 4 September at the eagerly anticipated Virgin Money Fireworks Concert in the stunning setting of Princes Street Gardens where the talented musicians are set to perform an eclectic programme of music inspired by Asia, Arabia and the east.  Over 100,000 fireworks, tonnes of explosives and hundreds of firing sequences launched from Edinburgh Castle will be choreographed by Pyrovision alongside pieces that include Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, Borodin’s Prince Igor, and Glinka’s Overture from Ruslan and Ludmilla.
The Edinburgh International Festival runs from 12 August – 4 September. Browse and book online at eif.co.uk or call 0131 473 2000.
Princes Street Gardens tickets are still available for the Virgin Money Fireworks concert on Sunday 4 September. Visit eif.co.uk/virginmoneyfireworks for more information and to book.

This article has also been published on stv.tv which features reviews, previews and features from this year's Festival.

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