And so the 70th Edinburgh International Festival began by harking back to the 1947 concert opener, Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony No 94 in G Major.
The Opening Concert: Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Flexing their world class musical creds, the SCO and conductor Pablo Heras Casado applied a feather-light touch to Haydn’s razor-sharp wit in this stylish performance.
The strings whispered so quietly in the andante that the “surprise” chords were loud enough to wake any slumberers while the ensemble’s nuanced dynamics shaped the menuetto’s dance-like rhythms. All politeness was abandoned in the finale as the players gleefully tossed the syncopated beats back and forth at break-neck speed.
Mendelssohn’s seldom-heard, overly long Lobgesang – neither a symphony or cantata – was an odd programming choice. Following a 20 minute orchestral sinfonia reeking of sentimentality, the piece became more interesting when the soloists and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus – in fine vocal form – joined the party. Werner Güra’s tenor aria and recitative in part six was exquisite, its operatic qualities offering a glimpse of what Mendelssohn could have gone on to write, while sopranos Dorothea Röschmann and Emma Bell sang a touching duet.
This was a missed opportunity to showcase a contemporary composer who might speak again to audiences 70 years hence.