Music review: Basel Symphony Orchestra with Sol Gabetta, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No 1 may not be the most virtuosic in the repertoire, but its compelling lyricism and underlying energy was captured to dazzling effect by soloist Sol Gabetta. Digging deep into the cello strings with her bow, Gabetta’s sonorous lower notes and dancing harmonics easily cut through the orchestral texture. There was plenty of woodwind colour and a lightness to the string section with its muscular violas adding textural weight. Chief conductor Ivor Bolton got the delicate balance between soloist and orchestra just right, not just in the concerto but in their encore together, Faure’s heart-stopping Elegy.

Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No 1 may not be the most virtuosic in the repertoire, but its compelling lyricism and underlying energy was captured to dazzling effect by soloist Sol Gabetta. Digging deep into the cello strings with her bow, Gabetta’s sonorous lower notes and dancing harmonics easily cut through the orchestral texture. There was plenty of woodwind colour and a lightness to the string section with its muscular violas adding textural weight. Chief conductor Ivor Bolton got the delicate balance between soloist and orchestra just right, not just in the concerto but in their encore together, Faure’s heart-stopping Elegy.

Basel Symphony Orchestra with Sol Gabetta ***

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Usher Hall, Edinburgh

It was a different story though with Beethoven’s Symphony No 3, the Eroica. This caused a musical revolution when it was premiered, but there was little evidence of its explosive nature in this homogenised account. The edgy chords in the allegro were too controlled and lacked surprise. In the lumbering funeral march, although the basses and cellos had the tune, they failed to growl with any mystery and the overall rhythmic integrity was off-kilter. And while the agile string section scurried elegantly through the scherzo, the players of the natural horns didn’t seem to have a grip on their instruments in the trio, the horn calls were out of tune and shambolic. Bolton took the finale at a snappy pace, but ultimately there were too many smudged edges and the movement lost momentum.

Busoni’s Lustspiel-Ouvertüre might be highly derivative, but this fleet-of foot comic opener played nicely to the orchestra’s strengths.