PITY the poor piece of music forced to share a programme with Beethoven’s monumental (and crowd-pulling) Ninth Symphony. It has to be something fairly spectacular – or get a fairly spectacular performance – not to feel like an also-ran.
Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra/Jacek Kaspszyk - Usher Hall, Edinburgh
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The Warsaw Philharmonic’s choice of Schubert’s Third Symphony, for the last of this season’s Sunday afternoon concerts in the Usher Hall, felt like neither – there’s certainly a case to be made for that composer’s earlier symphonies, but the unremarkable if spirited account led by conductor Jacek Kaspszyk hardly made it. It was good-natured and well-mannered, but too polite to be terribly distinctive.
There was more fire in Kaspszyk’s belly for the main event of Beethoven’s Ninth, though, and flashes of energy when he suddenly seemed to spring into life and conduct with vigour and demanding precision. But they were embedded within a noble, aristocratic approach that didn’t seem to want to indulge in anything as unseemly as drama, which is surely just what the piece cries out for.
Kaspszyk’s second-movement scherzo was brisk and direct, and his slow movement was touchingly fragile, if also a bit ponderous. The Edinburgh Royal Choral Union did a creditable job in the finale, although the men struggled to match the assertiveness of the women, and definition suffered in the louder passages. Bass Paul Carey Jones articulated crisply in his recitatives, but the four vocal soloists were a strangely unbalanced lot, with soprano Wioletta Chodowicz dominating and mezzo Hannah Pedley hard to hear. All in all, well-intentioned but frustratingly well-behaved.