Classical review: SCO, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

PERHAPS Shostakovich was being ironic or pandering to the Soviet apparatchiks when he declared he wanted audiences who heard his Symphony No 14 to think “life is truly beautiful”.


Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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Written in 1969 for a pared-down orchestra of 19 strings and percussion plus soprano and bass baritone, the symphony is set to 11 death-obsessed poems by Lorca, Apollinaire, Kuchelbecker and Rilke.

However, this profoundly moving performance by conductor Robin Ticcati, a brilliantly on-form SCO, topped by powerful contributions from Anja Kampe and Willard White, was indeed curiously life-affirming. It was impossible not to be gripped by the potent blend of demonic intensity, ominous foreboding and at times the outright macabre. The strings sighed and wept, the tubular bells tolled while the ethereal tinkling of the celeste taunted and teased. By contrast, the first half was a haven of tranquillity with Britten’s shimmering arrangement of the second movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony, What the Wild Flowers Tell Me and an equally sensitive reading of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. But while soloist Alina Pogostkina’s less sparky approach allowed the honeyed phrases to breathe and sing, there were times when it was just too dreamy.