Edinburgh International Festival music reviews: The Cinematic Orchestra | Philadelphia Orchestra

Our latest round-up of music reviews oscillates between atmospheric jazz electronica and an outstanding celebration of 20th Century African-American classical styles. Words by David Pollock and Susan Nickalls.


Leith Theatre

With its plush, fold-down balcony seats and Art Deco interior flourishes, Leith Theatre could quite possibly be mistaken for a cinema in the 1970s. It was the perfect place, then, for contemporary jazz and downtempo electronic group the Cinematic Orchestra to bring a new musical flavour to this year’s Edinburgh International Festival.

The Cinematic OrchestraThe Cinematic Orchestra
The Cinematic Orchestra

Led by bandleader Jason Swinscoe on piano and keyboards, the quartet of musicians played drums, double bass and more keyboards, their sound occupying the middle ground between ambient electronics and moody live jazz performance. It was a head-nodding odyssey, not a set to get physically excited enough to dance to, but certainly one which had a vivid effect upon the imagination.

The liveness of the show was added to by the appearance every so often of long-term Cinematic Orchestra vocalist Heidi Vogel to add rich, smoky jazz vocals to their sound. From the mellow Lessons and the piano groove Child Song, to their shuffling, mysterious rescore of Dziga Vertov’s 1929 Russian film Man with a Movie Camera and the lush, uplifting All That You Give, it was a restorative show for the end of a long festival. David Pollock

Philadelphia Orchestra ****

Usher Hall

The Philadelphia Orchestra and conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin are enthusiastic champions of Florence Price’s works and their performances are helping to address a yawning repertoire gap when it comes to female African-American composers.

Price’s 1932 Symphony No 1 in E minor is largely classical in format with the most successful movements those where she allows African-American musical styles to dominate. The Largo has the captivating lilt of a Negro spiritual while the Juba Dance is a riot of exuberant and quirky rhythms complete with bongo drums.

Nearly a century on, Gabriela Lena Frank has a similar fresh approach to melding different musical traditions. She beautifully evoked the folk music of South America in selections from Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout for string orchestra which opened the concert.

In between, the brilliant Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili maintained a steady, virtuosic course through Szymanowski’s wayward Violin Concerto No.1. It starts with a homage to French impressionism creating shimmering halos of percussion around her ethereal violin harmonics but by the sweeping finale the horns sounded distinctly Wagnerian.

Batiashvili effortlessly veered between whispered melodies and strident double stopping in this magnificent close reading with an outstanding on-form orchestra who were with her every step of the way. Susan Nickalls

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