Music review: Japan Philharmonic Orchestra

With little energy or passion in evidence, there was a sense that the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra were just going through the motions on this last date of their month-long European tour.

Japan Philharmonic Orchestra
Japan Philharmonic Orchestra

Usher Hall, Edinburgh ***

One of the last pieces Rautavaara wrote, the mystical In the Beginning, was premiered by the orchestra’s chief conductor Pietari Inkinen. It should have taken us on a journey right to the final enigmatic question mark. Instead, while there was meticulous attention to the score’s technical demands, the string sound was thin and expressionless.

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Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 also lacked sparkle with Inkinen’s lifeless tempi and labouring of every phrase flattening the Beethovian dynamics that are the very lifeblood of this piece. Soloist John Lill is a consummate performer but, like the orchestra, he didn’t manage to fully articulate this unsettling undercurrent.

International orchestras often don’t showcase enough of their home compositional talent on tour, so it was good to hear Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings. His sound world is ravishing with its filigree layers and breathy pulse. But much like the Rautavaara, this elegiac work, while played by the book, didn’t quite hit the emotional mark.

The brass added much needed definition to the orchestral textures in Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D major especially in the bleak slow movement. Trombones, horns and trumpets, underpinned by rumbling timpani, warmed the icy edges of the glacial string sounds. At last, Inkinen and the orchestra were able to deliver a wider colour palette, especially in the final movement’s lyrical theme.