Music review: Australian Chamber Orchestra

WHAT a way to start this year's Edinburgh International Festival series of concerts at the Queen's Hall on Saturday morning.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra in action

Star rating: ****

Venue: Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

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In an exceptionally inspired piece of programming, the Australian Chamber Orchestra took its capacity audience on an emotional journey that paired Wagner’s staggeringly beautiful Siegfried Idyll alongside Mahler’s intensely expressive Das Lied von der Erde in its Schoenberg transcription. Written for his wife’s birthday and famously performed on the staircase leading to her bedroom on Christmas Day, the Siegfried Idyll had a tenderness running right through it, whether softly intimate or with more passionate edge in its declaration of joyous love. Carrying that tenderness on into the Mahler for its poetry of autumn, youth and beauty, but then mutating it into an overwrought world of dark despair for the extended farewell of Der Abschied, was brilliantly achieved by the confidently assured ensemble of instrumental soloists with Richard Tognetti directing from the violin. The alternating voices of Stuart Skelton and Alice Coote were spot on. Skelton’s rich tenor voice is a velvety powerhouse, while mezzo Coote was unfailingly focussed in a performance that was evidently as transcendental for her as it was for those listening.