Brussels Philharmonic

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Michael Tumelty

five stars

“THIS is my new band”, beamed conductor Stephane Deneve proudly from the stage on Sunday afternoon as the Brussels Philharmonic opened the new Sunday Classics series in the Usher Hall.

And well might he have been proud. What a class act is the Brussels Phil, technically superb, numbingly blended as an ensemble and, like the best orchestras, wearing their technical polish lightly. Without display, exaggeration or a trace of showing off, in everything they did the quality and spirit of the music was the absolute criterion. It showed in every nuance of their opening performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, which was unusually refined in its general demeanour, characterised by the relaxed, genial, open-air feel to the performance. But that didn’t shadow some fantastic detail in the playing, notably in the most articulate double bass runs I have heard in the "Storm" movement, usually reduced to an opaque rumble.

But Deneve also has fire in his belly, and it ignited in the Brussels Phil’s electrifying performance of Guillaume Connesson’s Flammenschrift, a pent-up, pile-driving Beethoven tribute whose rhythmic impact and velocity had the small crowd, I kid you not, roaring.

More Connesson followed the interval, with his exotic and alluring little beauty, E Chiaro Nella Valle il Fume Appare, inspired by the beautiful verse of Leopardi, providing a seductive counterpoint to the electric Flammenschrift, and confirming the top-drawer quality Connesson has acquired with maturity and experience.

The whole thing finished with an astounding performance of Respighi’s Pines of Rome, glitteringly atmospheric and with the Phil at full tilt, extra brass in the upper circle and the Usher Hall organ blazing in the Appian Way.