Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Michael Tumelty

Five Stars

WHAT a phenomenal concert the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra brought to Edinburgh on Sunday to close the Usher Hall's International Classical Season. And I'll tell you something younger readers won't know. Many years ago, decades, in fact, the Warsaw Phil's present conductor, Jacek Kaspszyk, worked in Scotland with the BBC SSO, and I don't recall him being anything special. Time has moved on, he's a lot older, very experienced, and has a tremendous orchestra at his fingertips. He knows exactly what to do with a piece of music to secure optimum results, which his cracking band delivered with terrific zest and style.

Schubert's Third Symphony was pure magic in Kaspszyk's hands, for two reasons: it never lost sight for one moment of the quintessential melodiousness that is the composer's hallmark. But to the Poles' light-footed and well-sprung presentation, Kaspszyk added another ingredient: Beethovenian weight, and not just with the six double basses or in the hefty slow introduction. It gave the symphony an unusual solidity, firming up the delight.

Their Beethoven Nine was extraordinarily fresh: I actually felt I was hearing it for the first time. Kaspszyk's pacey tempos were thrilling and exhilarating: the development section in the first movement seethed and went like the wind; in the pounding Scherzo I almost ducked as the rhythms flew off the page like bullets. The slow movement sang as it always does, with not one ounce of drag; and the fantastic, searing performance of the finale by the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union with four fine soloists and the Warsaw Phil felt like being there as the music was born. I found the whole thing totally cathartic.