When St Magnus International Festival director Alasdair Nicolson was plotting his 40th anniversary programme, there was no way he could have known how potent the choice of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony would be for Saturday night’s packed out-concert, which brought together the weighty forces of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and St Magnus Festival Chorus.
BBC Symphony Orchestra and St Magnus Festival Chorus | Pickaquoy Arena, Kirkwall | Rating ****
As the European Union anthem - Beethoven’s setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy - sounded out with extraordinarily heartfelt conviction, it was the culmination of a resolute performance of the Choral Symphony that was fired with emotion from the first bar. Life-affirming music, transcending every boundary, conductor Alexander Vedernikov shaped and moulded it, often without a baton, in complete empathy with orchestra, chorus and soloists, led off by bass/baritone Stephan Loges. Earlier, Loges was soloist in Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet, a set of naval themed pieces which suited the embracing warmth of his voice.
From the unified ranks of the choir, a combination of Orkney singers and members of Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, it was the numbers with a swagger to them that fared better than the quieter, more sustained songs.
The Pickie, as it’s known, may not have the best acoustic, but it didn’t disadvantage the BBC SO and the lustrous immediacy of its sound. Heard to particular effect in Sally Beamish’s A Cage of Doves, dedicated to the Festival’s founder, Peter Maxwell Davies, Vedernikov and his players evoked the Orkney origins of a compellingly fascinating score.