Edinburgh Festival (12):Responsive Playing from Chamber Orchestra of Europe

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2013 (12) – Strauss, Mozart, Beethoven: Chamber of Orchestra of Europe, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor), Usher Hall, 16.08.2013 (SRT)

Strauss: Duett-Concertino
Mozart: Sinfonia Concertante in E flat for violin and viola
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7

The second time around for the Chamber Orchestra of Europe was decidedly more successful than the first, most notably in Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s Beethoven. He still acts like a hyperactive pixie on the podium and I still think that his swooning over his players is an action that brings about little effect, but he was much better behaved in the sound he crafted. Unlike in Friday’s Eroica, he kept a steady control of the tempo (barring some interjected pauses in the finale where, presumably, he couldn’t help himself) and generated some real excitement in some passages, most notably in the helter-skelter of the finale. His tempi for the first movement were pretty fast, but that didn’t get in the way, and he ran together the first and second pairs of movements without a break in a way that was, I must admit, rather effective. The orchestra responded to him more sympathetically too, with open, precise ensemble playing that never felt clouded, and showcased the very best of what a chamber-sized orchestra can do.

Again, though, the finest things came in the first half of the concert with a pair of double-concerti that showed how responsive and warmly these players respond to one another, especially when the soloists are from their own ranks. Strauss’s delightful Duett-Concertino, his last purely orchestral work, was an absolute joy in the hands of Romain Guyot’s quicksilver clarinet and, especially, Matthew Wilkie’s bassoon, and the highlight of the work was the moment at the start of the Andante when the bassoon spins out its beautiful line of melody against a delicate tremolo from the violins and harp. Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante also got Rolls Royce treatment from Lorenza Borrani, returning on the violin, and Pascal Siffert’s viola, whose playing sounded especially rich and chocolaty. I liked the way Nézet-Séguin kept the pulse flowing in the great C minor Andante, refusing to wallow in the dark emotions, and his rapid tempo for the finale ended the work with flair and a touch of humour. He’s undoubtedly a gifted conductor, but this weekend showed me that he’s still prone to superficial showmanship which he should be beyond by now. The best moments of this concert were the ones where the spotlight went off him and the music was allowed to unfold organically.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 1st September at 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