Bizet’s Carmen has been staged in the most unusual of places, but I wonder how many times it’s been done in a cattle market.
The significance wasn’t lost in this St Magnus Festival production (***) performed in Kirkwall’s Auction Mart by a minimal cast of Royal Welsh College of Music singers and equally lean orchestra of Royal Academy of Music students.
Richard Williams’s no-nonsense production, coupled with a frisky musical realisation under Charles Peebles’ baton, looked and sounded fresh and immediate, the lingering pong of Orkney cattle, along with interjections from the resident livestock, adding a steamy reality to the Seville bullring setting.
Everything was tailored to economy of scale and of movement. Samantha Price’s Carmen towered magnificently, radiating a rich crimson magnetism. Surely a star mezzo-soprano in the making.
Both weekend evenings were dominated by heavyweight concerts at Kirkwall’s Pickaquoy Centre featuring this year’s resident orchestra, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. On Saturday, its newly appointed Danish principal guest conductor, Thomas Søndergård, directed a programme of Debussy, Richard Strauss, Maxwell Davies and Stravinsky (****). It was a triumph of nuance and stylistic perceptiveness. Debussy’s Prélude a l’àpres-midi d’un faune ebbed and flowed with a heightened sense of the surreal; Stravinsky’s Petrushka struck a spine-chilling balance between taut efficiency and electrifying theatricality; Maxwell Davies’s light-fingered Ojai Festival Overture zipped along with elemental playfulness.
And there was much to savour in soprano Gweneth-Ann Jeffers performance of Strauss’s Four Last Songs, not least the sustained heat of her resonating voice. Jeffers was also part of the extensive cast performing Sunday night’s second RSNO concert (****), the main feature of which, under conductor Sian Edwards, was Tippett’s 20th century protest oratorio, A Child of Our Time. With a solo line-up completed by Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Jamie MacDougall and Nicholas Isherwood, and the confident joint forces of the St Magnus Festival Chorus and Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, Edwards captured the work’s haunting, driving pathos.
But not before we heard Festival director Alasdair Nicolson’s funky Dansmusik and cellist Guy Johnston’s wistfully tempered performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto.
Frantic stuff earlier on from the Aronowitz Ensemble in Stromness Town Hall (****). No sooner had they whisked through Judith Weir’s Distance and Enchantment than they were throwing themselves into the post-Romantic adrenaline rushof Korngold’s Piano Quintet. We might have expected the same pinpoint intensity in Shostakovich’s steely Piano Quintet, but it lacked the same electrifying consistency. But nothing to darken a glowing weekend of festival music.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west