Festival Music

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra/Long Yu

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

ON its current world tour, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of music director Long Yu, is being joined by a number of soloists, including Frank Peter Zimmermann playing Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No 1 in Lucerne this Friday and Leeds Piano Competition winner Eric Lu playing Mozart at the BBC Proms on September 1. The common element in all the orchestra’s programmes is the opener, Qigang Chen’s Wu Xing (The Five Elements). It is a wonderful little suite of short miniatures that begins with a superbly-played bass clarinet burble, keeps the young musicians of the percussion section active on a huge range of tuned instruments, and culminates in a very swift and beautifully articulated passage for the whole orchestra.

The concerto in this programme was Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with New Yorker Alisa Weilerstein, who has made a fine recording of the work with the Czech Phil and toured her homeland with it and them last year. There was a certain brusqueness to the orchestral string playing in the first movement which jarred a little, but the winds of the Chinese orchestra, and particularly the first clarinet, were the perfect partners for Weilerstein’s perfectly projected, even-toned account of the work, and Long Yu had the strings beautifully balanced with the soloist for the finale. An arrangement of the Song to the Moon from Rusalka was a beautifully-chosen encore.

The Fifth Symphony of Shostakovich is an ambiguous work that here received an ambiguous interpretation. Ultimately it was a success, with a really powerful, and crisp, account of the final page of the score, but whether or not Long Yu was deliberately holding the orchestra back to make more of an impact then, the opening seemed to lack the necessary attack from the strings. The placing of those percussionists in the midst of the orchestra undoubtedly added force to the militaristic passages, but the orchestra’s strings seemed to relish playing the more lyrical music more. There were a few rough edges in the horns and brass along the way too, but that climax had all the impact the work demands.