United Kingdom Borodin, Rodrigo, Saint-Saëns: Miloš Karadaglić (guitar), Oliver Condy (organ), Brussels Philharmonic, Michel Tabachnik (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 30.11.2014 (SRT)
Borodin: Polovtsian Dances
Rodrigo: Concierto de Aranjuez
Saint-Saëns: Symphony No. 3
The Belgians don’t have as distinctive a musical tradition as, say, the French, and I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I went to hear the Brussels Philharmonic, in Edinburgh as part of their UK tour. I certainly wasn’t expecting what I got in the Polovtsian Dances: namely a sound that was crisp, clean and so close as to be raw, more like what I would have expected to hear from St Petersburg or Moscow orchestras The clarinets skirled like the best of them, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bass drum attacked with such vehemence. They then surprised me again with a gentle, pared-back sound for Rodrigo’s evergreen Concierto de Aranjuez, that fitted the music very well, suggesting that, like many British orchestras, the Brussels players are, out of necessity, successful musical chameleons.
Miloš Karadaglić was at the guitar to bring a sparkle of stardust, and there was something truly magical about the nonchalance with which he was able to toss of Rodrigo’s busy chords, as well as the delicacy of the gentler, single-stringed moments, most notably at the start of the famous Adagio. His communication with the orchestra was far from perfect, however, and the lapses of ensemble throughout the concerto were troublingly frequent, though whether that was conductor’s or soloist’s fault is another question. Considering the fact that this is the third time they’ve played this work together on their tour, however, this is difficult to explain or to excuse. He was on much happier terrain when he played a solo set at the start of the second half. Here he was able to show what he could do on his own terms, be it in the rum-ti-tum of Falla’s Miller’s Dance, or the gorgeous piece of Granados that preceded it. I hope, however, that he didn’t see the orchestra as a mere encumbrance before he could get on to the good stuff.
When they came back, the orchestra gave us a really lovely performance of Saint-Saens’ organ symphony, showcasing their string section at their very best, be it in the attack of the first and third movements, or the gloriously rich unison sound of the second. When the organ was finally allowed to let rip, it was as a bonus to their sound, not its missing link.