Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE most famous composition of Carl Orff was inspired by, and draws its texts and title from, a collection of medieval writing, but the RSNO concerts featuring it were all about new talent.

The youngest were in the RSNO Junior Chorus (some so small their feet did not reach the floor from the seats of the Usher Hall’s choir stalls), their contribution to Orff’s Carmina Burana complementing that of an RSNO Chorus that has been refreshed by many new recruits. If chorus master Gregory Batsleer felt that the work really needed more voices than he had at his disposal, as he said to me just before the performance, the fact is that his forces seemed to suit the approach of guest conductor Kensho Watanabe perfectly. Still in his very early 30s, the Yokohama-born, US-raised assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra has been mentored by Yannick Nezet-Seguin and was making his RSNO debut. A young man with opera-conducting experience, he gave the singers the fullest attention (mouthing the words of O Fortuna from the start), and produced a performance that was not just about dynamics, but concerned with the sonic contrasts within the work and among the resources he marshalled onstage.

Alongside Handel’s Hallelujah and Zadok, and Verdi’s Requiem and Hebrew Slaves, the opening of Carmina Burana is one of the most popular scores for massed voices, but Watanabe was not distracted by that in a reading of the entire hour-long work that was intensely musical. Everything from plainchant to the work of Orff’s contemporaries, Stravinsky (in the orchestration) and Weill (in the male chorus), can be heard in the writing. Soloists FFlur Wyn, Adrian Dwyer, and particularly Scottish Opera favourite Stephen Gadd each added their own essential elements, the baritone’s pantomimic drunk all the better for leaning against the conductor’s meticulous precision.

That attention to detail was also apparent in the opening performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 with a rather smaller RSNO and Scottish International Piano Competition winner Can Cakmur. The young Turk kept things measured as well, for all that his playing was lyrical and flowing on one of Beethoven’s sunniest works.