Edinburgh International Festival music reviews: Budapest Festival Orchestra: Weber & Mendelssohn | Exploring Mendelssohn at The Hub | Sir András Schiff

Our latest batch of Edinburgh International Festival music reviews includes some heavy-duty German Romanticism and a powerful juxtaposition of Bach and Beethoven.

Budapest Festival Orchestra: Weber & Mendelssohn ***

Usher Hall

If we’ve learnt anything about the Budapest Festival Orchestra during its quirky EIF residency, it’s that music director Iván Fischer and his gung-ho band are up for anything, even when the programme is ostensibly a heavy-duty German Romantic one.

What do you do to perk up the growling intensity of Weber’s Der Freischütz Overture? Place the opening antiphonal horns in a rear-elevated stereo position, of course, before they descend to join the orchestral body mid-performance.

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Or that potentially ill-fitting coda to Mendelssohn’s “Scottish” Symphony, which if dangerously handled can seem like a tasteless extension to a Victorian villa? Given it systematically tosses the thematic focus around the orchestra, why not have each successive section leap to their feet and remain so? Fischer did exactly that, effecting something akin to Haydn’s “Farewell” minus the cumulative departures.

Then the burning question: who would sing the advertised choral lollipop Morgengruss from Fanny Mendelssohn’s Gartenlieder? At this point the players downed their instruments, formed a massed choir, and sang their hearts out. Sure, these were clearly untrained voices, a little unsupported in tone, but their intonation and filigree textures were spot on and they knew instinctively how to interpret Fischer’s expressive signals.

All of which left the “serious” stuff a little overshadowed. The boldness and pungency of Freischütz was neatly offset by lithesome, lyrical flurries, but the Mendelssohn symphony, while thrusting and decisive, lacked tonal refinement in its inner workings.

Exploring Mendelssohn at the Hub (Photo Copyright Kim Kiely)Exploring Mendelssohn at the Hub (Photo Copyright Kim Kiely)
Exploring Mendelssohn at the Hub (Photo Copyright Kim Kiely)

Soloist Daniel Lozakovich gave Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto a periodically uneasy ride, not without its voluptuous singing moments, but prone to inexplicably rushed and impetuous fits. His solo encore, Nathan Milstein’s Paganiniana, proved a swift and spellbinding antidote. Nor were the BFO allowed to leave Edinburgh without its own exuberant postscript, a rollocking Dvorak dance. Next stop, the BBC Proms.

Ken Walton

Exploring Mendelssohn at The Hub ***

The Hub

Informality clearly requires a lot of rules, regulations and explanations. Fifteen minutes’ worth, from three different speakers (including Festival Director Nicola Benedetti), at the beginning of a laid-back concert/discussion based around Mendelssohn’s glorious Octet in the beautifully converted main space of the Hub.

The aim – and it’s certainly a praiseworthy one – is clearly to establish a format that’s distinctly different from that of a more formal classical concert. But with little precedent in popular consciousness, new ground rules have to be established first.

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In fact, the event was pretty much half discussion – of the bigger project behind the event, bringing together professionals and exceptional students; of the music itself; and of experiences of playing chamber music more generally – and half music. It’s questionable, though, how much insight these brief contributions from the eight players actually offered: sharper, more directed questions might have provided more illuminating answers.

The players’ Mendelssohn Octet was richly imagined and enthusiastic, though, even if ensemble went slightly awry in the third movement and leader Stefan Jackiw needed to push the flagging tempo on in the finale. Brief fillers by Mozart and Dvořák served to showcase a few of the players’ individual talents.

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The International Festival’s new relaxed concerts are entirely laudable in concept, but on the strength of a frustratingly wordy evening, they still need work in terms of execution.

David Kettle

Sir András Schiff

Queen’s Hall *****

‘Life is too short to listen to bad music’ announced Sir András Schiff as preface to his Queen’s Hall recital yesterday morning. As things turned out, it was the EIF’s allotted time span that was too short for all the very good music that Schiff decided to play in what was billed as a surprise recital introduced from the stage.

Whether generous or self-indulgent - or possibly a bit of both - in going way over schedule may not matter. What a pity though for those who had to leave before the end and miss the powerful juxtaposition of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and Beethoven’s Tempest Sonata, both written in the dark colours of the key of D minor.

The deep emotional connection made as the rolling, brooding motifs of Beethoven’s final movement pulled towards its close, was somehow one that completed a full circle which began with the calming Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations at the very start of Schiff’s recital.

Even in a packed auditorium, Schiff has an exceptional ability to create a sense of intimate engagement at a personal level though the combination of world class artistry and the genius of the composers he chooses to perform.

Carol Main