Edinburgh International Festival 2011 (14) – Hillborg and Mozart from Zinman and the Tonhalle

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Edinburgh International Festival 2011 (14) – Hillborg, Mozart, Dvořák : Maria João Pires (piano) Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, David Zinman (conductor). Usher Hall, 29.8.2011. (SRT)

Hillborg: Cold Heat
Piano Concerto No. 27
Symphony No. 8

Anders Hillborg’s compositions often seek out paradoxes – past examples include Dreaming River and Liquid Marble – and his 2010 work, Cold Heat, deploys contradictions to make its often powerful effect. At the opening swirling, jangly woodwind oscillations stand against monumental brass chords and long, icy string notes, almost suggestive of the Scandinavian landscape from which he hails, and the music moved through a range of contrasting landscapes before fading into the distance at the end. The piece was never less than striking, often working through contrasting enormous, almost monolithic blocks of sound against one another. This gave way to a very beautiful coda, however, when a solo violin and cello played over quietly melting strings. David Zinman is the work’s dedicatee and he gave the first performance, so it’s no surprise that he conducted it with vigour and direction, nor that his top class players of the Tonhalle Orchestra blew such wonderful colour through a score that was so condensed in making its impact.

The orchestra were joined for the Mozart by that most sensitive of pianists, Maria João Pires, playing with her characteristic ear for inner beauty. She is without doubt the least showy pianist I have ever seen perform; in fact she seems consciously to avoid the limelight while on stage, as if her physical presence is an unavoidable evil that is in danger of getting in the way of the music. Such playing makes her seem more like a member of the orchestra, a selfless approach that fits this music like a finely tailored suit. Her music-making is incredibly responsive and radiates thoughtfulness, nowhere more so than in the central Larghetto which seemed to hang in suspended animation. While slimmed down for this work, the ensemble still played with the deliciously fat string tone of a symphony orchestra, adding richness and a hint of luxury that you don’t often get in Mozart nowadays.

The playing of Dvořák’s Eighth Symphony was also in a special class, exuding refinement and sophistication, especially in the opening bars of the Adagio. The orchestra sounded aristocratic even when they (sort-of) let their hair down in the faster sections. This was a Rolls-Royce experience of Dvořák, wonderful in its own way, even if there were moments in the symphony when you would have preferred to be careering down the highway on a Harley Davidson.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until 4th September in a range of venues across the city. A selection of performances will be reviewed in these pages. For full details go to www.eif.co.uk

Simon Thompson