How to Mend the World with a Student Play (TheSpace on the Mile: Aug 16-17, 19-24 : 21:55: 45 mins)

“Delivers on every comedic promise it makes.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Nae Bad 

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my time in the arts. From HSLC Stage School (Hi Karen!) to these years at Edinburgh49, it’s been at least a few hundred hours of devotion sunk into the discipline of playing pretend. And, like a new parent, whilst this longterm commitment has given me an unquenchable affection for the stage, it has also filled me with a deep, bitter disdain. Disdain for self-righteous, zeitgeist-y directing; disdain for “visionaries” who make a lot of noise yet do nothing new; and dark, roiling acidic disdain for shows made to be edgy for the sake of fashionability.

There are many, many reasons to like How To Mend The World With a Student Play. In the service of objectivity, I will go through all of them at gleeful length. But my greatest admiration of this play is entirely personal, and entirely biased: Hyde-like, it has given voice to my worst impulses, and done so beautifully.

The premise of the play is simple: four students try and put together a new, #groundbreaking production of The Crucible in the forty five minutes they have before a funding meeting. To say any more than that would ultimately be pointless: How To Mend The World is a masterclass in comedic farce. There is no great plot twist or consolatory ending. In truth, there’s barely even a plot at all. This is a show that relies entirely on the ability of its actors and the quality of its character writing to justify its existence, and does so in spades.

The show presents itself with gleeful scathingness from the moment its actors arrive onstage: characters Jonty (Francis Nunnery) Felicity (Matilda Price) and Christian (Liam Hurley) offer deliciously satirical yet lovingly realised portrayals of the variously smug, unstable and utterly pathological millieu of the student stage scene. This entire review could be a rote praise-list for the talent of these three actors. Price somehow combines pitch-perfect character work with machine gun delivery speed, bouncing from outburst to outburst like an anxious pinball. Hurley, a man very obviously at home in physical comedy, presents the emotionally unstable Christian as equal parts likable, pitiable, and utterly infuriating. And Nunnery, saddled with the hardest character to make standable, brings a precise yet cartoonish spark to Jonti Bailey-Higgins that somehow justifies every terrible, terrible thing he does.

Special praise must also be given to Ollie Tritton-Wheeler, portraying the piece’s straight man Ben Hackett. Foils in comedy walk a constant tightrope between obvious audience mouthpiece and smug know-it-all, yet Tritton-Wheeler is content doing cartwheels on the rope instead. He is aggressively relatable and damn funny in his own right, managing to take an essential part of the comedy formula and really make it his own.

There is a raw consistency present in How to Mend the World, which runs systematically through every component of production. Though its staging is simple and its theatrical techniques basic, they’re incorporated like gears in a pendulum clock. The intent behind even the smallest FX flourish is at once immediately apparent, and completely fulfilled. Every comedic swoop and dive, whether reliant on human or technical resources, stuck the landing. Despite appearances, this production is clearly one where the idea of theatre as craftsmanship has flourished.

With craftsmanship in mind, special dues must be given to the writing. Devised pieces are mercurial creatures, entirely made or broken in the rehearsal room and unfortunately prone to acute textual bloat. Here, not so. The script for this production is undeniably tight, unavoidably witty and – perhaps most importantly – unmistakeably written from a place of first hand knowledge. I’ve met every character in How to Mend the World in jaundiced dressing rooms and smoky back exits. The genuineness of director Joshua Silverlock’s work lends it a palpable solidity, and keeps the material fresh by nature. Creating work like that is hard enough to do alone, let alone by committee. And yet, it is so.

I savoured every moment of How to Mend the World with a Student Play. It is a precious thing: a theatrical product which delivers on every comedic promise it makes, and doesn’t stop until its subjects are wrung out husks. If that alone isn’t worth the price of admission, then I don’t know what is.

nae bad_blue

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Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 14 August)

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The Showstoppers’ Kids Show (Pleasance Courtyard: Aug 15-18: 12:00 : 1hr)

” A polished, properly silly, properly funny children’s show”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

There are two sorts of shows that genuinely fascinate me. Magic shows and improvisation shows. I mean, every form of show has something interesting or funny or something to love, but those are the two that really get me thinking.

I think it is because deep down we all want to know how it is done. How does the magician saw the lady in half? Where is the bunny hidden in the hat? How do they make up songs about ‘’elderly children’ in London’s sewer system before being transported to a castle by way of a kiss from a unicorn on a pipe-smoking, gin-swilling child called Platypus? How do they not burst out laughing? How do they appear to make the difficult so ridiculously smooth?

With some of these thoughts in my mind (although I only met Platypus later), I set off with my dreadful duo (aged 5 and 2) for the lunchtime Showstoppers’ Kids Show. Neither of them had come across improv before so it was a bit of a suck it and see affair. Would they get the point of it all? Would they get involved? Would they spot the ice cream shop directly next to the buggy park and ask me about it relentlessly throughout the show?

Showstoppers are well-kent faces. They routinely sell-out here in Edinburgh and their show for grown-ups in the West End has won Olivier Awards. Many performers who appear year after year in Edinburgh become jaded or dial it in knowing that they’ll sell out regardless.

For the team in colourful dungarees nothing could be further from the truth – they were anarchic and buzzing from ten minutes before the show started! I walked in and saw them performing, assuming the show had started, and that somehow we’d managed to get the timings wrong. One of the Showstoppers gleefully revealed they were just playing to get into the mood before the show started but got the busy crowd going. This was clever: it got the kids used to the idea of getting involved. If any of the Showstoppers read this, I’d be keen to know who you thought was a better Renaissance painter than Caravaggio. 

The show was entirely constructed by the children. The Showstoppers built a series of songs and dances around the themes, plot ideas and names that were called out. The children did their best to corpse the stars. At one point we were asked to come up with three wishes for a genie to grant. The first two were generic enough. The third – wonderfully –  was ‘have a barbecue’ which just for a moment just about stumped them.

Arguably the stars of the show aren’t the five bouncing about endlessly on stage but the two musicians in the corner who are having to keep up with the hilarity and as you’d expect from West End stars, there are some jokes that fly above the heads of children but make the adults titter.

I spent much of my time mesmerised by the sheer talent of all it all. The cynics will say there are audience plants but I balk at that suggestion: just about every child suggested something after all. It has to be down to months and months of hard practice. It is all seamless and there are enough moments where it nearly spins out of control for you to really understand the hard work they are putting in: this is high-quality, funny stuff in real-time. Imagine how sick you’d be if you are a comic who spent hours trying to write gags and turned up to see an audience of children roaring along to this?

My kids enjoyed it and it was clear from seeing arms shoot up or things called out that other kids loved the outright silliness of it all. I’d guess the ideal ages are 4-9.

I came away with a new found respect for improvisation shows. I’d guess improv in front of adults is easier – it is easy to nod to a political theme or to rudeness or vulgarity. Children’s imaginations are much more fertile than our own and I’d guess the spectrum of possibilities is much wider.

Apropos of anything else, I’d note how generally lovely the Showstoppers were. From their getting us involved in their warm-up through to one of them asking at the end if my littlest one was ok (she’d got a little bit upset when she went up on stage with the other kids and I had to run on and grab her). They threw out large rolls of paper for all the kids to come up and colour in at the end of the show on the stage whilst going round handing out stickers to everyone. None of these things need to happen but it shows the stars know their audience. They don’t make the fundamentals of the show any better but all were appreciated.

This is a polished, properly silly, properly funny children’s show. I want to see the grown up one now.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Rob Marrs (Seen 14 August)

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“Morgan & West: Unbelievable Science” (Assembly George Square – Gordon Aikman Theatre, AUG 14-20, 22-25 : 16:30 : 60mins)

“The production values on this show are higher than Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. in a hot air balloon … The production value for money is (if anything in the material universe could be so) incalculable.”

Editorial Rating: 7 Stars: Outstanding

“How did he do that???” Daughter 1.0, aged 4 but 5 next birthday (something she would want you to know), is managing to grin from ear to ear while she is also open-mouthed in astonishment. We are in the careful cup stage. “OK, both hands. Focus on what you’re doing.” Thrills and (just occasionally) spills. How on Earth has the dandy chap on stage managed to put a glass tumbler full water into a hoop, swing it round his head, and never spill a drop?

Gravity is unfair, unkind, and unreasoning with regard to preschoolers. Gravity is to blame when one has taken a wee tumble while running on the wet cobblestones of George Square – despite a strongly-worded suggestion not to. It’s gravity’s fault that one has bumped one’s head while skylarking with one’s little sister on the sofa, despite the Patriarchy having less time for skylarking on the sofa than the Hong Kong authorities have for protests at the airport. So it’s fair to say that Daughter 1.0 likes seeing gravity defied.

Only gravity isn’t being defied by the untumbling tumbler or water, it’s being demonstrated. Mr Morgan and Mr West are VERY clear about that. This is NOT a magic act. These are not tricks. These are scientific demonstrations. Gravity is a fundamental law of nature, applicable at all times and in all places. Mr Morgan and Mr West are tending the flame of Scientific Enlightenment and they are doing so on hallowed ground.

It is to be regretted that David Hume and Ben Franklin, walking together on those same George Square cobblestones in the age of Enlightenment, couldn’t have got slightly closer to a proof (one so irrefutable that Newton, Einstein, and Lieutenant Data combined couldn’t have improved on it), that some moral laws are similarly universal no matter the context. Such a proof might have saved us from the present age of Endarkenment. Fake news from faker demagogues pushing utterly false pretexts and promises.

The production values on this show are higher than Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. in a hot air balloon – a beautiful science lab set, properties with the property of not looking improvised, fine tailoring, great grooming, and an electrostatic generator that manages to sound even scarier than it looks. The cost in fresh cardboard boxes alone must be more than most shows spend on flyering. The production value for money is (if anything in the material universe could be so) incalculable. Mr Morgan and Mr West are the very best kind of teachers in that they don’t try to be your friend, they want to get you thinking. This show does many things, but pandering isn’t one of them.

There are belly laughs aplenty. The jokes are clever, often visual, always flawlessly delivered. Gyles Brandreth once asked me on the radio, an impressive feat because he was in the studio with the actual guests and I was listening at home with my feet up, what my least favourite word is. “Whacky” I replied. It’s been done. It’s been overdone. The ‘80s are over. Timmy Mallett’s off eating bush tucker. Whacky is what Grandad was worried about. Mad scientists in a Hammer horrorshow of a science lab, being silly, talking without ever saying anything.

Grandad is an EH10 Edinbugger of the old skool. He doesn’t like the Fringe and he’s only coming along because he’s studiously avoiding Granny’s book festival event featuring an auld collaborator who Grandad feels has sold out to become a **shudders** popular scientist. Grandad is a professor, an evolutionary geneticist at KB who Richard Dawkins considers a bit hardcore on the science over dogma spectrum. But Grandad really enjoys the show. Granddad loves watching his granddaughter loving the show and wondering at the Science. It’s the parabasis that crowns all and sets this show apart.*

*You’ll have to look up the definition of parabasis. It’s not often we history and classics students get to out jargon the boffins.

For the parabasis, Mr Morgan and Mr West shift their attention to the parents and carers in the audience. Their sleeves are already rolled up from the final demonstration. They pull no punches about what Science is, why Science matters, how Science is explored, and why Science doesn’t care what you or I think about it. “The Earth IS round,” loud and excited applause, “critical climate change IS real and… VACCINATE YOUR KIDS.” The applause dies down, the yummy mummies and super cool daddies who equate their B in Higher Biology with membership in the RCGP are stunned into silence. It’s one of the bravest things that the EdFringe has seen since Rudolf Bing stepped off the train at Waverly in ‘47.

52 weeks in the year minus 3 weeks for the Fringe equals Edinburgh49. Our little site exists to promote the year-round arts scene in Scotland’s capital with informed, and informative insight. Our ratings system seeks to balance the informative, objective, and subjective. Up to five stars for technical performance, with the option for the reviewer to add a “nae bad” or “outstanding” badge. It’s worked well up till now, but Mr Morgan and Mr West have tested our instruments to their limits with a show that delivers to the George Square Theatre what Dubai levels of luxury deliver to the hotel sector.

If John Reith, the Scottish broadcasting executive who established the tradition of independent public service broadcasting, were on hand and not simply dust in the Rothiemurchus wind, I would ask him to present Mr Morgan and Mr West with Edinburgh49’s first (and possibly only) ever seven-star outstanding review.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 14 October)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

One Duck Down (Pleasance Courtyard : Aug 5-19, 21-26 : 10:30 : 1hr)

“A magical, wholesome family show.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

It is a not-generally-acknowledged truth that toddlers are jolly good at wrestling. You wouldn’t think, watching them sit shoving Pom Bears into their gob that – at any moment – they can turn into a match for Hulk Hogan.

Each has their own technique. Some favour ‘’The Mummy’’ were they tense every muscle in their body and go completely rigid. Others favour the opposite, and manage somehow to loosen every joint in their body making them impossible to carry. This is the jellyfish. My youngest, whilst not averse to either of these generally favours two similar techniques: either the octopus which sees her grappling around your limbs as you try to manhandle her into a buggy or Ikea high chair; or its close cousin the ‘’cat going to vets’ where she scraps like billy-o and grabs hold of nearby objects with a death grip.

A nightmare of every parent is having to fight any of the above in public. None of us come away from public wrangling looking like parent of the year. Most of us are just desperately trying not to swear.

I was worried about all this because I took my youngest to one of her first shows this morning. She’d been to stuff in previous years but she had – happily for the Marrs wallet – been a ‘’babe in arms’’. The problem with any show is that you just don’t know how they will react to being in a very different environment for an hour. So it was with a sense of trepidation I took my seat at One Duck Down. She looked at me. I looked at her. She promised to be a good girl. I handed over a packet of gingerbread men.

Happily the cast took any lingering worries away. One Duck Down had both of my youngsters entranced from the first moment. The story is one of the oldest in town brought bang up to date: a young man from a small-town fancies a woman who is a wrong ‘un. She sets him a series of challenges to win her heart from making seagulls sing the national anthem through to counting pebbles on a beach. Eventually she sets him the challenge which is the show: find me the 7,000 rubber ducks that have escaped from a shipping container and my heart is yours. Anyone who has seen Blue Planet will know that 7,000 rubber ducks actually did plop into the ocean a number of years ago, and have helped us understand the ocean currents as we see them wash up now and again.

The hero of the piece is the highly likeable Billy, who sets off in a bathtub to track the ducks down. As he does so he meets a series of colourful creatures – some seagulls who are besotted with an albatross who only has eyes for himself; a polar bear who loves rock and roll; some smelly crabs and some pirates in L-plates. He slowly but surely accumulates all but one.

The team behind the show manage manage to make it small-p political without becoming a party political broadcast: balancing important messages (the effects of global warming; plastic pollution; and what we can all do to make things better) with a fun story that the children enjoyed.

There was real cleverness here. Double-entendres, clever word-play, catchy (well-sung!) songs throughout and fun, well-crafted characters. Not many shows will have a bearded lady, a huge blue whale made out of plastic bags (a real highlight) and a sword fight on a carousel. More probably ought to! The cast put in a real shift changing role after role after role.

I enjoyed it all and not just because there were enough jokes pitched above the eyelines of the children to keep the adults amused.

I usually bemoan children’s shows being an hour as most of them could be a little tighter. A 50 minute show would probably lead to fewer casts having to battle with a kid having a meltdown. One Duck Down managed to keep most of the children’s attention for that time – no mean feat. My two were talking about it hours later. Both were bopping away to the songs, clapping at all the right points and enjoyed rocking along to Scozzie the Polar Bear.

Songs, clowning, puppetry and a lot of fun that keeps your kids spellbound for an hour. All in all, a real winner and a magical, wholesome family show.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Rob Marrs (Seen 5 August)

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Splash Test Dummies (Underbelly Circus Hub on the Meadows : Aug 3-11, 13-18, 20-24: 13:00 : 1hr)

“You won’t see a funnier, more joyous, more riotous, or more uplifting show this Fringe.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

Reams of mum-blogs (dad-blogs too, but the mums are winning in terms of overwhelming numbers) will give chapter and verse on how parenthood changes you. Parenthood has certainly changed how I approach the Fringe. In the old days, I actively looked forward to the 5am finishes in clubs. Now I mostly worry whether or not the fireworks will wake the kids.

It also changes how you consume the Fringe. Gone, largely, are the late night comics. The earnest, right-on types making other earnest, right-on types laugh are a thing of the past (no great shame). The late night smut merchants are done too. I don’t care what anyone says: if you don’t laugh at rude songs you are doing life wrong.

But whilst some of the Festival no longer is for you, a whole new side opens up. So I took my nephew (9) and my eldest daughter (5) along to the Splash Test Dummies. I will confess that we did so because my daughter liked their poster.

What a choice. I may start getting her to pick my shows purely on this basis. Splash Test Dummies was quite brilliant. It was everything a good Festival show should be. It had a bit of everything: acrobatics, unicycles, Cirque du Soleil-style gymnastics, running gags, good ol’ fashioned clowning, magic, puppetry, and slapstick galore. I laughed until I was hoarse. My nephew at numerous points said he was ”dying with laughter”. I may as well have not bothered getting my daughter a seat as she spent much of it standing in front of it clapping or laughing with glee.

The actors don’t so much breach the fourth wall but obliterate it. At one point, in a hilarious moment based around the Baywatch theme song, one of the three actors climbed through the crowd, stood on my daughter’s chair and bounced up and down. Later a man nearby had a (very sweaty) Dummy on his lap being hugged.

The ‘Rubber Duckie’ song was glorious as was the sketch with ping pong balls. A relatively simple magic trick taken to a whole new level. It may have been puerile but that’s the whole dang point. I laughed like a drain, as did my young duo.

There are water pistols, noodles, skeleton fights, skipping on unicycles and bubbles pumping out over you. The Dummies fire ping pong balls at you. It is an assault on your senses from before you even enter the tent.

All of this sounds easy but being this funny, this physical under lights for an hour is hard yakka in anyone’s money. More than that it isn’t easy. It is hard and the three Dummies clearly had bucketloads of talent and skill.

The three actors may look like they are clowning around but they do some seriously difficult stuff. Synchronised swimming on unicycles took the breath away as did some work with large metal rings. To make it all look so effortless is quite a skill. To do it and infuse it with comedy… well, it deserves the applause it got.

Apparently in reviews you should always give something critical lest readers think you are some professional fluffer or on the payroll. My one minor quibble – and this is true of almost every kid’s show – is that anything marketed for 5+ probably would be super if it were 45 minutes/50 minutes rather than an hour. I’m not sure what could be cut down or cut out but a few kids did start getting a little restless. Mine didn’t but I did notice a few around me beginning to turn. That though is universal and shouldn’t be held against the three magnificent Dummies: as I looked around at the end, the audience was grinning. The sort of grinning we don’t have enough of in life.

The Dummies have thought hard about how to entertain us and, importantly, our children. Even more than that, they delivered relentlessly. You won’t see a funnier, more joyous, more riotous, or more uplifting show this Fringe. My daughter spent the rest of the day pretending to be a Splash Test Dummy. If you’ve got kids, go. If you haven’t, borrow one from a friend. If you can’t do that, go along yourself. You’ll have a ball. I did as did my youngsters.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Rob Marrs (Seen 3 August)

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RSNO and Chorus: Sondergaard: Clark Evans: Belshazzar’s Feast etc 31 May 19

Image result for RSNO

RSNO Chorus

 

“The RSNO goes from strength to strength in its legitimate aspiration to world class status.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

Whilst there are a number of music critics who cannot even read music, let alone play a musical instrument, I take nothing away from their appreciation and interpretation of the genre, after all, you do not need to be a painter to appreciate art, or a writer to appreciate literature.  Moreover, those of a similar trade are not always especially kind to their colleagues.

 

The reason I write this is that as a lifelong choral singer one of the reasons I wanted to review Sir William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast was that, conversely, I have never sung it (although I know the work very well having first come across it in my teens).  This is because it is fiendishly difficult to sing.  I have pleaded with several chorus directors at the beginning of the season to include it in the programme, only to be met with a sad refusal – I bet the chorus director wished we were good enough to sing it too.

 

So any choir that gets up and sings Belshazzar’s Feast has my immediate respect no matter what sort of a hash they make of it, which, of course, they don’t.  The RSNO on Friday were no exception.

 

The work is just short of 40 minutes so does not of itself a programme make.  The RSNO, always creative in its programme configuration, excelled itself on this its season finale.  We started with Sibelius’s Suite, Belshazzar’s Feast. Ever heard of it?  I hadn’t.  Sibelius wrote it for a theatre production for his friend Hjalmar Procope’s play of the same name in 1907 and it was premiered along with his third symphony.  The music fared better than the play and was reworked into a suite of four pieces lasting around a quarter of an hour.  Apart from a suggestion of an oriental bazaar in the opening moments of the first piece with cymbals, strings and woodwind it was superseded by Sibelian Nordic overtones and did little to convey the majesty of Babylon, more Fry’s Turkish Delight and a picnic in Scandinavian Sylvania.  Well played it made for a pleasant opening number.

 

I cannot think of a cogent reason to include Elgar’s Cello Concerto other than it is a magnificent work and tonight was played by a Norwegian, Truls Mork, thereby channelling a somewhat tenuous Scandinavian connection with the Sibelius, I suppose.  In his introduction Music Director Thomas Sondergard said more or less the same.  For music writers of my age it is near impossible to get beyond the Jacqueline du Pre/Barbirolli recording of 1965 (subsequently surpassed in passion, if not interpretation, with husband to be Daniel Barenboim in 1974).  So what of Truls Mork? A salutary lesson in experience trumping prejudice.  Mork took no prisoners in the opening Adagio-Moderato which he played with authority and conviction, rich tone, and was clearly going to play second fiddle to no predecessor.  Nailing the dramatic moving up the scaleup the scale crescendos he avoided schmaltz yet still was able to convey every inch of restrained yet total emotional commitment.  Another rebuke to those who say only the English can truly convey Elgar.  The subsequent movements showed not only mature bravura playing but a real connection with the orchestra, the more surprising he had not played with them for six years.  Bravo, this alone made the evening a worthwhile lesson in musical appreciation.  A fine performance.

 

And now to the main event, the post interval audience suitably armed up for this brash, full on choral onslaught that is Sir William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast.  First, hats off to the 100 plus RSNO chorus, all amateurs, who sang with precision, clarity and conviction in this immensely difficult to sing piece with its chromatics, close harmonies and dissonance, including shouting “Slain” completely together and extremely loud after the famous “Mene, Mene Tekel Upharsin”  This chorus had most certainly not been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Take a bow, Chorus Director Gregory Batsleer.

 

Baritone Anthony Clark Evans provided a rich dramatic and suitably sinister narrative and was amply suited for the part.  The orchestra was spot on all the way through this full-on unrelenting work. Three trombones made the noise of six to open proceedings and along with the clear diction of the chorus we were all (the men at least) made to feel a teeny bit uncomfortable with the opening from Isaiah “They shall be taken away and be eunuchs”.  Some of the most glorious short orchestral passages accompanied “Praise ye the God of Gold…” and “Thus in Babylon, the mighty city, Belshazzar the King made a great feast….” And all guns blazing in the finale “Then sing aloud to God our strength…Alleluia!”

 

Sometimes dismissed as all brass and noise, and eschewed by Sir Thomas Beecham as “a work which shall never be heard again” Belshazzar’s Feast is now rightly thought of as the most important English choral piece since Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius some 30 years before, both in their very different ways being essentially about redemption.

 

This evening brought to a close in Edinburgh the RSNO’s first season under Thomas Sondergard as Music Director.  It has been a record season in terms of attendance, including, most encouragingly, a big increase in attendees under 26 years old.  This is not the first, and I am confident will not be the last, occasion when I write “The RSNO goes from strength to strength in its legitimate aspiration to world class status.”  Well done, friends.

 

 

 

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen31 May)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Japan PO. Inkinen, Lill (Usher Hall 14 April ‘19)

“If the orchestra had been playing this piece as an exam they would have got 100%.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

 

A decade ago my wife treated me to a weekend in Vienna, and thoughtfully procured tickets for the Sunday morning concert at the Musikverein.  I remember musicians of the highest calibre drawn from the Vienna Philharmonic playing easy on the ear classics supremely well, and afterwards watching the respectable citizens of that city go off to the Imperial Hotel for lunch.  It could have been straight out of Luis Bunuel’s 1972 classic Le Charme Discret de la Bourgeoisie.

 

Edinburgh offers the same kind of thing but with the concert in the afternoon, and with musicians sourced from all over the world.  The combination of well-known works played by orchestras from exotic places, the audience having lunched well, provides an attractive draw, although I am afraid post prandial snoring was evident in one or two places, and the informal dress code disgraced the locals compared to the Viennese, or the smartly turned out Japanese cohort present.

 

In addition to providing two works of easy familiarity, Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto and Sibelius’s Second Symphony, to their great credit and wisdom the band presented two accessible lesser known works, Rautavaara’s In the Beginning (referencing conductor Petari Inkinen’s Finnish nationality) and Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings, for the Japanese.  Both works held their own in terms of seriousness, if not length, compared to the masterpieces.

 

Einojuhani Rautavaara’s In the Beginning, written as recently as 2015, his final work before his death in 2016, was very much in the Finnish idiom, plenty of close harmony and skilful orchestration of brass.  Enjoyable, not too austere, it showcased the orchestra’s talent across the entire instrumental bandwith in just seven minutes; a strong beginning.

 

Just as I am puzzled by the number of recordings available of well-known works so I find it hard to write something new about them when often performed.  All one can really write about is the interpretation.  It is perhaps helpful that I heard Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 just a month ago in the same hall with young Turkish pianist Can Cakmur with the RSNO.  The 21 year old Turk found new life in the piece and tore the opening phrases off the piano in the opening Allegro con brio, and gently coaxed the scales in the Largo.  The 75 year old Lill was more measured, and played an exemplary, much more classic interpretation that I expect hadn’t changed much in fifty years.  It found great favour amongst the many septua/octogenarians present, and was immaculate, considered, uber competent, but as if classical musical interpretation had stood still since the great recordings of the sixties and seventies under the baton of the likes of von Karajan and Klemperer.

 

Toru Takemitsu’s Requiem for Strings (1975) was a piece one could easily have mistaken for being of Western provenance, (the composer having been influenced by Western music for most of his life) and while I cannot agree with the comparison some make with Barber’s Adagio for Strings , the piece in my view being more reminiscent of Michael Tippett, it was a restful, well orchestrated example of the post war idiom, written but ten years after Richard Strauss’s Metamorphosen for 23 solo strings.  Accessible, interesting and drawing one in, it faded into a beautiful ethereal ending.  The orchestra’s playing of their home piece was superb.

 

What to say of the finale, Sibelius’s Symphony No 2 in D minor, other than it is a glorious work and I don’t care how many times I listen to it?  The discipline, technique and intensely classical style of the orchestra ensured that we got a rendition that was free from schmaltz and true to the composer’s intentions.  It was a masterly performance, under the now obviously very talented baton of compatriot Finn Intiken, who drew everything out of the score from double bass, percussion and tubas to soaring strings, blaring brass and exquisite woodwind, notably the oboist.  If the orchestra had been playing this piece as an exam they would have got 100%.

 

It is a tribute to the Japan Philharmonic’s stamina that after this bravura rendition we were treated to seven minutes of peaceful wind down therapy with a beautifully played seven minutes of Sibelius’s Valse Triste as an encore. 

 

 

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 14 April)

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