EQ: Dance! (Various, until 14 June ’17)

“A real treat”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

The Edinburgh Quartet are one of our favourite live music acts here at Edinburgh49, and while normally it’s my colleague Charles we defer to for his superior knowledge of classical music, I was interested to see how a collaboration with Youth Dance Scotland would work, and what unexpected gems might be uncovered when combining classical music with contemporary dance.

The evening commences with a traditional musical performance by the quartet, followed by three dance/music collaborations: all original compositions for the quartet, and with original choreography from Marc Brew.

The first of these, For Sonny captures a very childlike and playful feel, with the dancers darting in and around the musicians (who are positioned centre-stage), seeming to make the rules up as the go along. There’s an element of give and take to the piece as the dancers respond directly to strokes from the quartet in the quieter elements, and to movements from each other – as if playing a rather bizarre version of “follow the leader” throughout. It’s fascinating to see such a close relationship between the dancers and the musicians, even though the danger of collisions sometimes causes the heart-rate to rise somewhat!

The quartet move to the side of the stage for the final two pieces, yet still feel integrated within the performance as the dancers watch and respond to them throughout. The second piece feels just slightly more grown up as the dancers adopt a more uniform and unison approach to their movement, though they become more animalistic – like a set of production line workers in rebellion against the formality of the everyday. Different dancers take turns to break out from the group, using more and more of the space, until they surround the quartet at the end, as if waiting for their next direction or inspiration.

Silent Shores has a significantly more ensemble feel, and combines the best of both of the previous two pieces, with some daring lifts and tableaux in direct response to the music, following its stops and starts with playfulness and control. Reflecting the nature of the isle of Arran, it’s a complex interrelationship as the different aspects of the piece – contrasting stillness and frantic movement – bring about a sense of ongoing time and flow, like the changing of the seasons.

Overall what’s most pleasing about the whole setup is the relationship between the dance and live music, which is cleverly structured and choreographed to integrate the two. At times the movements did lack a little polish and finesse – but perhaps given that the piece is touring across different venues in Scotland for just one night at a time, it can be expected that the dancers will have to adapt to the size and shape of their performance spaces each time, not allowing them to fully relax into each performance.

Something for both dance and classical music aficionados, a real treat. It’s a shame that, at just shy of an hour, the performance is so short.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 June)

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RSNO: Carlos Miguel Prieto; Boris Giltburg (Usher Hall: 26 Feb. ’16)


Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

“The playing’s the thing…”

Friday night is music night – well pretty much every night is actually – at the Usher Hall, but it is also RSNO night and this last Friday they played a successful combination of the well known, the eccentric, and the obscure.

Let’s start with the obscure.  Our evening kicked off with Rodion Schredrin’s Concerto for Orchestra No 1Ozorniye Chatuski”, roughly (but appropriately) translated as Naughty Limericks, the music being based on short and bawdy popular songs.  Had you heard of Shchedrin?  Did you know that, unlike Shostakovich, he had few problems with the State authorities, or that Leonard Bernstein was a fan?  I confess I didn’t, and I warmed to this delightful eight-minute pastiche that certainly had shades of not only Bernstein’s West Side Story but also Walton’s Facade.  The RSNO played with precision and affection that set us up well for the evening.

There followed what I suspect everybody came for, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor.  This is a glorious piece, Rachmaninov’s passport to his new life in the USA, and premiered with him soloing with the New York Symphony Orchestra under Walther Damrosch in 1909.  The work is so gorgeously, gloriously and unashamedly romantic that it is tempting, especially for the younger soloist, to ham it up. Hats off, then, to the 31 year old Boris Giltburg, Russian born but now based in Tel Aviv, whose performance was restrained, measured and perfectly controlled so that you felt that it was the composer rather than the soloist speaking to you. The slower than normal tempo of the opening Allegro ma non tanto allowed clear as a bell timbre in terms of notation and phrasing so that you felt you were really getting to the music rather than being overwhelmed by romantic mush.  The long solo passages again made you feel you could hear every note in every chord with extraordinary attention to detail with well judged and never over the top expression. The young man demonstrated maturity beyond his years and true artistic humility that won the hearts of audience and orchestra alike.  His encore was an extraordinary exercise in bravura.

And what of the orchestra? I would describe their playing as both totally integrated with the soloist but also supportive, with solo wind, especially flute and cor anglais, almost curling round the piano part as if they were dancing together. The strings brought out everything we wanted to hear but rightly stopped just short of Hollywood. Percussion and brass were necessarily bold and strong. We heard the piece uncut, symphonic in length and also stature.

Following the interval came Shostakovich’s Symphony No 6. Shostakovich wrote a patchwork quilt of fifteen symphonies from the full on 5th, 7th and 8th to the miniscule 15th. The sixth comes stylistically somewhere near the latter, a mere 35 minutes and three movements, but to their credit guest conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto and the RSNO made me take this eccentric work more seriously than before. A sombre first movement with a broad, bleak opening line from the violas and cellos followed by sparse, exposed flute and trumpet made this a signature Shostakovich work. As it progressed we were given some lighter relief in terms of joyful woodwind and even humorous, full on brass, resounding tam tam and timpani. A short work rich in contrasts and emotions, well played.

This was a surprisingly good concert given, or maybe because of, the choice of programme. I was impressed by the depth of the interpretations of the Shchedrin and Shostakovich, and the restraint and maturity shown in the Rachmaninov. So I wondered, what makes a successful concert? Programming, interpretation, of course, but perhaps above all the degree of engagement between players, soloist and conductor, and above all between players and audience. The orchestra and their guest conductor clearly had an excellent rapport, as did they with us, rewarding us with a delightful Chabrier style parody encore. So the engagement, and to misquote Hamlet, “the playing’s the thing”. Well played.


Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 26 February)

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Edinburgh Quartet (Queen’s Hall, 17th Feb. ’16)

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“An interpretation of utter conviction, inspiration and stellar playing throughout”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars: Nae Bad

The Edinburgh Quartet continued the second phase of their 2015/16 Season under the banner of “Storm and Stress”, derived from the loose translation of the German ‘Sturm und Drang’ movement of the eighteenth century. In this movement passionate expression was given free rein in literature, but also in music with works by Haydn and Mozart at the forefront. The Quartet performed a typical Sturm und Drang work by Haydn, Op 76 No 2 “The Fifths” alongside Bartók’s thrilling, dissonant but rewarding 3rd Quartet and Grieg”s surprisingly complex and at times  dark Quartet in G minor.

The Quartet got straight into their opening number with final tuning completed off stage. This, along with their precision and togetherness, immediately gave the audience confidence that they were in safe hands and in for a treat. So it proved.

The Haydn has (if you will forgive the pun) no hidin’ place (geddit?) in the transparency and openness of 18th century music, and chamber music in particular. The quartet were not found wanting. Clarity, accuracy, full on expression and commitment were the order of the day, and brought this 200-year-old work fully to life. At the end of the first movement I could not stop myself whispering “Wow” under my breath. By the third movement what impressed me most about this band was their sheer synergy. Disciplined, supportive pizzicato to Tristan Gurney’s lead violin, lightness of touch in the final movement with lead violin again doing most of the heavy lifting, as well as the dramatic opening fifths that told us this band meant business.

I have to say I had my heart in my mouth for the Bartok. A complex, austere work with brutal sul ponticello and col legno bowing, glissando fingering and a deep contrapuntal architecture, all grafted on to Hungarian folk song in a collage of different shades and expressions, at times highly dissonant, at others wistfully melodic. A hard act to pull off and a work after which the string quartet genre was never quite the same again. It has probably only been done justice by the Alban Berg Quartet, although the Takacs have given a creditable performance, and it was refreshing to hear the Edinburgh Quartet’s assured version of this piece that makes demands of players and audience alike.

I particularly enjoyed how the musicians let the music speak for itself – the various techniques demanded by the composer contributed to the overall musical experience rather than distracting through novelty or sensationalism. By this I mean the disconcerting col legno (basically bashing the bow up and down on the strings, even reversing the bow so the wood strikes them) was artistically justified!

We needed a breather after that and the interval proved welcome respite. We returned to the auditorium expecting some dreamy Grieg. Not so. This was more Peer Gynt than the Holberg Suite. A major, serious work full of contrasts, based on Spillemand, a Norwegian song from 1876, that gave us a strong, dramatic opening leading into a more lyrical style as it progressed. The quartet rewarded us with an interpretation of utter conviction, inspiration and stellar playing throughout. Special mention here has to be made to Cellist Mark Bailey laying down a melody of plaintive yearning, sensitively supported by ripieno violins and viola.

So, taken in the round, once again some really creative programming delivered with enthusiasm and élan. Putting Haydn and Bartok together before the interval took some courage, and it worked, albeit lacking just a touch of the transcendental magic shown in the Quartet’s previous outing. An engrossing, rewarding evening’s music. Bravo.


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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 17 February)

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