Edinburgh International Festival Musical Revues: Philharmonia Orchestra | Brautigam, Hoppe & Poltera

Pianist Seong-Jin Cho performs with the Philharmonia Orchestra

Philharmonia Orchestra/Santtu-Mathias Rouvali, Seong-Jin Cho (piano), Usher Room *****

There has always been a distinctive glow and shimmer in the sound of the Philharmonia Orchestra. But in his first year as head chef, young Finn Santtu-Mathias Rouvali has clearly kicked things up a notch or two. This was evident in Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony which formed the climax of the Philharmonie’s first orchestral concert as part of his FEI residency. It was a searing, furious, viciously incisive tale that shed piercing light on Shostakovich’s immense score in all its brooding angst, blazing fury and precarious sense of eventual triumph. Rouvali judged the long, slow opening movement brilliantly, with a sense of inevitability of the gradual blossoming of Shostakovich’s gnarled ideas, and of their withering also at the end of the movement. Its searing second movement – ​​reputedly a musical portrait of Stalin – rumbles and creaks, and it’s at times like this that the Philharmonie’s high-definition sound and Rouvali’s biting precision come into their own as they magnify the Shostakovich’s already terrifying intensity. We still don’t know what the composer really meant with the Symphony – are those athletic closing tattoos of his initials on the timpani (a brilliantly powerful Antoine Siguré) really a signal of victory? – but Rouvali remained faithful to the score in all its mystery and grotesqueness. An unforgettable account.

Earlier, Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho delivered an equally memorable rendition of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, full of steely dexterity and breathtaking agility. At times – the opening cascades announcing the presence of the piano, for example – it was almost as if he was trying to push the instrument as far as it could go in terms of volume and intensity. Indeed, at times his strong definition slipped into hard-edged fragility, and he was clearly determined to avoid any soft-edged daydreaming in fairly crisp, clipped slow motion. Nonetheless, it was an invigorating tale, with equally insightful support from the Philharmonie. David kettle

Brautigam, Hoppe & Poltera, Queen’s Hall ****

The music was relatively familiar, but the medium used for these piano trios by Fanny Mendelssohn, Schumann and Schubert offered a new perspective. Ronald Brautigam had chosen to play a 19th century Erard piano rather than the usual modern Steinway. The relationship with his string colleagues – violinist Esther Hoppe and cellist Christian Poltéra – was one of growing fascination.

Inevitably, it took modern ears a while to acclimate to the older instrument’s softer, velvety hue, drier precision, varied tonal shift, and slightly antique demeanor. But that in itself fostered more interactive subtlety between players. It was a match of equals.

The overture to Fanny Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in D minor was a good example, its initial adrenaline rush expressed in refreshingly nuanced, but still thrilling and feverish terms. Conversational intimacy was effortlessly seductive, as in Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op 88 that followed, its own cocktail of wistful lyricism, rustic springtime and cheerfully reinvented conclusive optimism.

This left Schubert’s most extensive Piano Trio No. 2 in E-flat as the biggest challenge. The density of the outer movements resembled monumental bookends to the folksong of character and the whimsy of the inner movements, though tellingly refreshed. Ken Walton

Darcy J. Skinner