Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Chamber Orchestra of Europe @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh

13 August 2007

Thomas Ads conducts as he composes, shaping swirling circles of sound and relishing the interplay of individual lines.

But his appearance in Edinburgh with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe displayed some imprecisions and an occasionally heavy-handed approach, which detracted from the concert’s success.

And the Usher Hall was half empty – evidently up here, unlike in London, Ads is no big name.

Which is a shame. His violin concerto of 2005, Concentric Paths, is a fascinating work, full of dramatic and colouristic contrast. Soloist Anthony Marwood (the work was written for him) bowed the moto perpetuo first movement with an edgy, mechanical harshness, contrasted by his searing, vibrato-laden approach to the following two. He was not at his complete best, with the intonation in the more stratospheric passages not perfect. But Ads conducted his own score sharply, emphasising the deathly horn lines and guillotine tutti stabs of the central movement, though perhaps not always injecting enough bite into the woodwind.

The opening number on Monday, Beethoven’s rarely played Namensfeier Overture was more problematic. The momentum was there, and Ads confidently blazed out the fortes, but at the work’s centre, for all the clean articulation of parts, a sense of dialogue was lacking. Ads seemed unsure when to retract and when to illuminate motifs. With the composition already filled with loud, boisterous climaxes, a lack of interpretative subtlety was a serious omission.

Ads did Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite rather better. The Sinfonia‘s bouncy dance rhythms were well judged; the gorgeous Serenata was all lugubrious ticking clock beats and frail woodwind lines; the giddy rhythms of the Tarantella fizzed; the two duets (the horn and the flute in the Gavotta‘s second variation, the trombone and the bass in the Duetto) were sparky and alert. The ensemble intonation was occasionally suspect, however, and the score’s fleeting moments of repose seemed rather taut. The culminating performance of Sibelius’ Third Symphony uncovered a new crispness and flexibility of ensemble, but an occasionally soupy balance of violins and violas in the slow movement undermined the thrilling virtuosity that came before and after.

On the streets of Edinburgh on Monday, trying to avoid the dodgy choirs and execrable publicity seekers, I was taken by a juggler masquerading under the name of Great Scott – his was a standard though demanding act, but his warm humour and energetic delivery provided a ray of sunshine on a gloomy afternoon. And before the concert, I all but fell in love with the Scottish Country Dancing down the road – how effortlessly ebullient the music is and what nimble dancers those old gals are.

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