Edinburgh International Festival music reviews: Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra | Dunedin Consort

Pounding dance rhythms from the Bergen players, and an intimate journey from the Renaissance to the Baroque from Edinburgh’s own Dunedin Consort. Reviews by Susan Nickalls and Ken Walton

Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra, Usher Hall *****

Dance-inspired music is too tame a description for the pounding rhythms and explosion of rich textures that dominate the works bookending this fabulous programme by the Bergen Phiharmonic Orchestra. Their chief conductor Edward Gardner is a master of finessing large-scale forces to paint the most ravishing sound pictures. In Ravel’s La Valse, the orchestra swept the waltz melodies off their feet into a dizzy maelstrom that eventually fragmented under its own weight. Ravel might have called the work a choreographic poem for orchestra, but as was evident in this immaculate and sumptuous reading, it’s really film music in disguise.

Hide Ad

Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances have similar aspirations, starting out with all the swagger of a Hollywood western for sumo wrestlers. The bass clarinets and contrabassoons growled like hungry coyotes, which created an edgy undercurrent to the insistent string rhythms. Gardner’s pacing was spot on as he steered the piece to its heady climax.

Pianist Víkingur Ólafsson and conductor Edward Gardner with the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra PIC: Ryan Buchanan
Hide Ad

In between, there was plenty of poetry in Víkingur Ólafsson’s immaculate and understated performance of Schumann’s Piano Concerto. There was much to enjoy in his fresh approach to this repertoire classic, particularly the close interactions with Gardner and the orchestra in the more intimate moments of the slow movement. Susan Nickalls

Dunedin Consort, Queen’s Hall ****

Hide Ad

This was essentially a gentle affair. A gorgeous tapestry of mainly solo vocal-led works centred on that magical moment in European music, from the start of the 17th century, when the early Baroque morphed out of the Renaissance. It featured a well-planned journey in time and style from Monteverdi to Buxtehude, its medium an intimate period combo from the Dunedin Consort, fronted by its associate director, tenor Nicholas Mulroy.

It opened with a soft, beguiling Kapsberger instrumental toccata, Elizabeth Kenny’s solo theorbo establishing a mellifluous air of gentility that was to dominate the programme. Other instrumental repertoire acted as breathing points in the proceedings – a glistening Frescobaldi toccata, a Buxtehude trio sonata, and the crystalline precision of harpsichordist John Butt in a Frescobaldi capriccio. But the heart of the presentation lay in the vocal mix.

Mulroy led us from one musical treasure to the next, from Monteverdi in the contrasting guises of his muted Salve Regina and spirited Più Lieto Il Guardo, the languid penitence of Schütz’s O Misericordissime Jesu, the sweetness of Caccini, to a much more exotically charged Monteverdi in Nigra sum. Then finally, Barbara Strozzi’s Lagrime mie, emotionally extravagant, but ending perfectly in sublime tranquility. Ken Walton