Festival Music

The Orchestra of the Americas

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

three stars

BETWEEN the launch of the EIF2018 programme and Tuesday evening’s concert, The Orchestra of the Americas, which includes representatives of two dozen nations, had lost its “Youth” designation, and that appeared to be an accurate reflection of the range of ages represented on stage. It was, however, still definitively at its best with American music.

There was more common ground between Mexican Carlos Chavez and his friend Aaron Copland, whose Third Symphony was played after the interval, than conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto seemed to suggest. The orchestra was using borrowed percussion instruments from the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland but those were augmented by exotic Latin additions the composer required for his Sinfonia india – all part of a modernist strategy to compel attention through repetition in what was a fine opener, with excellent solo playing on trumpet at its opening, trombone at the end and oboe in the middle.

The principal oboe and piccolo players also made crucial contributions to the Copland, which climaxes in a superb orchestration of his Fanfare for the Common Man, beginning on flutes and clarinet. Prieto had every section in perfect balance with his precise and rigorous conducting, and the strings, unusually in odd numbers of players in the lower sections, were particularly poised.

That was true of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 as well, but sadly it was often difficult to hear them behind soloist Gabriela Montero’s over-loud, percussive, splashy and often rhythmically casual playing. Although the horn section seemed attuned to the acoustic at the start, the strings were immediately swamped in a performance that lacked the delicacy we now demand in this famous piece, even when that was audible in the playing of the orchestra.

I could also have done with less of Montero’s over-long encore feature of improvisations on themes suggested by the audience (the opening bars of Ye Banks and Braes and Loch Lomond, but not, thankfully, the suggested Flower of Scotland), as well as the free-form party pieces that closed the whole concert, and the last date of the orchestra’s tour. It was, perhaps, too early in this Festival for that.