Orchestre de Paris – Pastoral Symphony and Harold en Italie, Usher Hall, Edinburgh * * * *
Both are labelled symphonies but neither is a symphony in the conventional sense. Both, however, have a programmatic element to them, Beethoven’s all-time popular score taking a laid-back, somewhat benign, view of nature, gently shaped by conductor Daniel Harding to sound at times almost sotto voce. Strings were in supple form, with double basses – up behind the wind and brass – given unusual prominence that didn’t always work to best advantage. After initial perplexment as to where Harold en Italie’s viola soloist might be, Antoine Tamestit, whose tone gleams with ease of lyrical line, entered stage right to duet with the harp. Walking around while playing, weaving in and out the orchestra and even up to the dress circle audience, was all well and good, but ultimately a distraction even though Tamestit projected every detail and nuance of Berlioz’s wandering, romantic hero. With its scoring for larger forces, the Berlioz had more bite than the Beethoven, while retaining the finesse of sound that is part of Orchestre de Paris’s DNA.