thu 18/04/2024

Han, KBS Symphony Orchestra, Inkinen / Dunedin Consort, Butt, Edinburgh International Festival 2023 review - a tale of two very different orchestras | reviews, news & interviews

Han, KBS Symphony Orchestra, Inkinen / Dunedin Consort, Butt, Edinburgh International Festival 2023 review - a tale of two very different orchestras

Han, KBS Symphony Orchestra, Inkinen / Dunedin Consort, Butt, Edinburgh International Festival 2023 review - a tale of two very different orchestras

Confident Koreans followed by supreme Bach interpreters

Pietari Inkinen and the KBS SO in the Usher HallUsher Hall images by Andrew Perry

There’s a Korean strain to the Edinburgh International Festival’s programme this year, more in the drama programme than in the music one, but it came to the Usher Hall in Friday night’s concert from the KBS Symphony Orchestra (★★★★). They play a similar role in Korea to what the BBC Orchestras do in the UK (KBS stands for Korean Broadcasting System) and if this concert is anything to go by then they’re a jolly impressive bunch of musicians.

Their overall sound was full of confidence, with a golden glow to the brass and a bright sheen to the strings. That came in very useful in illuminating the textures of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto, because while they were full of bluster and blare in the tutti sections of the outer movements, their introduction to the slow movement was observed with subtlety and skill, gentle winds picking their way forwards alongside soft strings before giving way to some serious drama in the central section. Jaemin HanMuch of the colour and direction was down to conductor Pietari Inkinen who crafted a mainly legato approach to the orchestral sound but with enough vigour to keep things moving. And in Jaemin Han (pictured above) they had a cello soloist who was unafraid to give it his all. He played with lashings of vibrato and a determination to wring every last drop of lyricism from the music, and his performance was all the better for it. There was subtle beauty in the lyrical passages, balanced by wiry intensity in the faster moments, and he achieved implausible sweetness at the very top of his register.

The orchestral sound remained impressive in their performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, lush and lavish, helped by the fact they were playing with quadruple winds. The first movement moved from inky darkness to a main Allegro of terrific vitality, and the high-calorie string sound that began the finale was something to wallow in. Inkinen (pictured below) kept things moving persuasively, with occasional pauses to enjoy the view. The only point where he dropped the ball was the opening of the slow movement, where the horn solo was beautifully played (by Principal Horn Samuel Jacobs) but droopily shaped. Elsewhere, while wind entries were occasionally ragged and the climaxes of the finale were rather congested, this was an impressive performance from an Asian orchestra that’s new to me. Inkinen and Koreans in the Usher HallBut if it was tight orchestral ensemble you’ were seeking, then you only had to get up for the Queen’s Hall concert the following morning to hear the Dunedin Consort playing all four of Bach’s Orchestral Suites (★★★★). OK, it’s hardly a fair comparison between a full-scale symphony orchestra and a crack period team, but the quality of the engagement was so high that it sounded like it came from a different. The Dunedin Consort were musicians so immersed in their music and so committed to its realisation that their playing was a constant joy, and a reminder of the old adage that Bach’s music is like the sound of angels dancing.

John Butt (pictured below with the Dunedins in the Queen's Hall by Andy Caitlin) conducted them from the keyboard like a bouncing ball of energy, reminding us repeatedly that this was the music of the dance, so that each movement swung and flickered as though it was freshly written. Butt wisely reordered the suites to perform the bigger ones (with trumpets and drums) at the beginning and end, raising the curtain with the terrific ebullience of No. 3 and ending with the extravaganza of No. 4. If the heft of the tuttis didn’t carry you away then the delicacy of the inner writing most definitely would have done, something helped by the bespoke ensemble for each suite, ranging from seven musicians for No. 2 up to sixteen for No. 4.  John Butt and the Dunedin ConsortSuch ravishing attention to detail, with all the delicate interior figurations all made glitteringly clear, made this a showcase of how this music should sound when it has had all the appropriate care lavished upon it. The Réjouissance last movement of No. 1 sent us out into the Edinburgh afternoon with a terrific injection of adrenaline, “rejoicing” indeed.

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