Festival Music

BBC SSO/Dausgaard & Colin Currie Group

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

IN the Edinburgh International Festival’s recently inconsistent way, this concert was billed by its music, “Peer Gynt & Glorious Percussion” rather than its performers, presumably to make the link with the modern adaptation of Ibsen’s play, Peter Gynt, running at the Festival Theatre.

Unsurprisingly, the comparison did the National Theatre production no favours, because fine though it is, with a remarkable central performance by James McArdle and a great David Hare script, its specially-commissioned music is not especially memorable, and many more people are familiar with Edvard Grieg’s incidental music for the 19th century Danish production than will have seen any version of the play.

Opportunities to hear all of it are rarer, and the inclusion of parts normally omitted alongside favourites In the Hall of the Mountain King and Morning Mood made conductor Thomas Dausgaard’s direction through the suite a greater experience. As well as the orchestra’s wind soloists at the start, there was a fine cameo from principal viola Scott Dickinson, who began his folk tune at the wedding offstage before taking his place at the front of the section. The strings were all on superb form in fact, with The Death of Ase and Anitra’s Dance as beautiful as you’ll hear. That can also be said of soprano Malin Christensson’s two songs as Solveig, the singer emphasising her place as part of the ensemble by taking a seat among the violins for the whole work.

It was the piece before the interval, the UK premiere of Sofia Gubaidulina’s Glorious Percussion, already a decade old, that was the sensation of the evening, however. The way those strings are used by the composer during its 45 minutes was mesmerising, and one of the many things that make the listener rethink the whole relationship between percussion, and rhythm, and melody.

A five-piece edition of the Colin Currie Group, adding Catherine Ring to the quartet that played the East Neuk Festival at the end of June, used an array of drums, gongs, blocks and chimes that occupied a huge area of the stage, but for which words like “rig” and “hardware” seemed entirely wrong, With brass, celesta, harps and timpani making crucial contributions from the orchestra, this was beautifully-calibrated music full of captivating small moments as well as great ensemble writing. At its simplest level, its message was to render the distinction between tuned and untuned percussion instruments utterly meaningless.