One final concert, one final Covid-related cancellation. When you consider how infamously reliant (over-reliant?) on international travel the world of classical music is, the Edinburgh International Festival has been very lucky to have suffered so few high-profile cancellations in what has been an otherwise remarkable comeback year. The very fact that the final week has involved high profile visitors like Joyce DiDonato and Renée Fleming is an indication of how well they have done. 

Lionel Bringuier conducts the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
© Matt Beech

Not so much luck for Japanese conductor Kazushi Ono, however, who pulled out of this concert having fallen foul of the Covid axe. With him was cut one originally billed item from the programme, reducing the number of pieces from three to four and turning this concert into almost a repeat of a programme that the Scottish Chamber Orchestra gave in the 2011 festival. It also cut the programme, without an interval, to only fifty minutes, which left several audience members complaining about value for money.

Still, Lionel Bringuier arrived to save the day, and clearly struck up a really good rapport with the orchestra because the sound they produced was terrific. I have yet to hear a performance of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin that could dissuade me from the conviction that this music works better in the original piano version, but this performance probably came the closest. Ravel’s orchestration suits the players of the SCO really well, and the rippling winds and unusually sensual string tone of the opening Prélude sounded terrific, as did the rather rakish sway of the Forlane. The interplay between the winds was terrific in the Menuet, and the final Riguadon was subtle while remaining bright and characterful.

You don’t go to Prokofiev’s “Classical” Symphony for Ravelian subtlety, and Bringuier understood that in a performance that was characterised by big gestures and primary colours. The first movement had big sweep and clear direction, clean and focused throughout. Bringuier’s way with the music was undeniably assertive, the Gavotte carrying so much heft as to be a bit of a wallop, but he conjured up surprisingly warm string tone in the second movement and the finale was a fleet-footed gallop, full of playful colour.

It was in that 2011 concert that the orchestra gave the premiere of Toshio Hosokawa’s Blossoming II. I can’t find any record of them playing it since, so it’s hardly surprising that, having looked back on my notes I made in that concert, not a lot seems to have changed since that first performance. Hosakawa takes his inspiration from the blossoming of the lotus flower, unfolding on the surface of a pond. The work’s primary interest is textural rather than melodic, with the music unfurling from one long-held string note; and the orchestral strings, who have the most to do, did a sound job of revealing its many layers. Some unusual percussive effects, and some buzzing in the strings seem to fill in the ecosystem of the pond, and the piece manages to remain meditative without sounding monotonous.

Amusingly, however, the pianissimo string glissandi that Hosakawa writes for the violins bore a more than passing resemblance to the sound of distant ambulances hurtling down the adjacent main road. Ah, the hazards of outdoor concerts. We won’t have to worry about that once we’re back in the Usher Hall!

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