Classical review: Commonwealth Games Gala Concert

Alexandre Bloch making his RSNO debut as conductor. Picture: Facebook
Alexandre Bloch making his RSNO debut as conductor. Picture: Facebook
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THE USHER Hall’s concert to welcome the Queen’s Baton Relay to Edinburgh appeared to be a mishmash of competing agendas.

2014 Commonwealth Games Gala Concert - Usher Hall, Edinburgh


There was a half-hearted nod to the Commonwealth with works by two British composers programmed, but the only baton in play was the one passed between conductors.

Walton’s Coronation Te Deum made for a suitably majestic opening with Michael Bawtree conducting the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The choir were in fine voice with the brass fanfares and organ flourishes adding stately grandeur.

Bawtree deftly marshalled similar forces for Vaughan Williams’ first major choral work, a gorgeous setting of Walt Whitman’s Toward the Unknown Region, to close the concert.

In between, conductor Alexandre Bloch, making his RSNO debut, impressed by nicely balancing the exhuberant with the elegiac in Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.5 Reformation. Pianist Stephen Hough kept Bloch and the orchestra on their toes in a sensational account of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Not only technically brilliant, Hough’s laid-back Zen approach was enthralling. Bloch’s playful encore choice of Gounod’s Funeral March of the Marionette suggests we may see more of this engaging Frenchman.

The audience were also treated to an impromptu acapella performance of An die Freude, aka Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, by the Love Music Community Choir conducted by Stephen Deazley. Taking up half of the stalls, they just stood up and sang enthusiastically which seemed to encapsulate, more than anything else on this programme, the participatory spirit of the forthcoming games.

Seen on 13.06.14