Edinburgh International Festival: Dresden Staatskapelle/Fabio Luisi

Beethoven, Richard Strauss and Bernhard Lang

Usher Hall, Edinburgh International Festival, 2 September 20084 stars

Fabio Luisi: copyright Barbara LuisiTwo significant changes to the original advertised program brought interesting new perspectives to the Staatskapelle Dresden concert: Schuman's Piano Concerto was replaced by Beethoven's Concerto No 4, and there was the addition of Bernhard Lang's Monadology II (which was supposed to have been performed in the previous night's cancelled concert) to the end of the evening.

All in all, the Staatskapelle Dresden Orchestra performed well, living up to its reputation as one of the world's leading orchestras. As an ensemble, they were not as tight as one might expect, but their performance was marked by good direction from conductor Fabio Luisi who conducted Weber's Overture from Oberon without a score or rostrum, as if to eliminate any barriers with the Edinburgh audience.

However, it was Hélène Grimaud's performance of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto that was the highlight of the evening. Her unassuming manner (with modest clothes to match) and excellent timing in musical gestures created an intimate performance of what seemed like chamber music. What most impressed was her light touch: especially in the ends of phrases in the second movement where she made impressive diminuendos to almost nothing, whilst still holding firmly onto the thematic resolution. Each chord was carefully crafted and skilfully executed retaining equality of the individual notes. Occasional balance problems in the first movement (when the woodwind struggled to be heard) did not detract from this exquisite performance.

Fabio Luisi: copyright Barbara LuisiFew are more qualified to tackle Richard Strauss' repertoire than the Staatskapelle whose long standing support for his work extend back over 60 years and include many of the most famous premières. Of course, no performance of Ein Heldenleben is complete without an outstanding concertmaster who also is an impressive soloist. Kai Vagler's virtuosic playing and wide vibrato stole the show with the cello section also making an enthusiastic contribution.

Averting a mild disaster after the previous night's no-show of instruments, the final piece in the programme (for those who stayed for it), was a UK première Monadology II by Bernhard Lang. Although scored for full symphony orchestra, extended percussion and individual parts in the strings, Lang focused the attention away from the heavy texture of the lower brass, instead concentrated on light repeated motives. The ‘musical-cellular processing', as the composer termed it (featuring throughout each of the six parts), was dry, clinical and lacked in direction. In the final part the cellos and basses held the same rhythmic patterns for almost the entire closing section: cells were stated, with little development. This particular performance was scaled down from its original twelve movement structure, much to everyone's relief. A disappointing end to a high-class performance.

By Mary Robb

Preview of the 2008 Edinburgh International Festival:

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Previous reviews of the Edinburgh International Festival :

Ruhe (2008)
Mischa Maisky (2008)
Scottish Opera performs Smetana's The Two Widows (2008)
Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (2008)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Ades (2007)
San Francisco Symphony/Tilson Thomas (2007)
Optical Identity (T'ang Quartet) (2007)
A Celebration of Poulenc (2007)