EIF 2016: Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Usher Hall, Review

Edinburgh Festival review
Rating (out of 5)
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Gewandhausorchester Leipzig
Edinburgh International Festival
Herbert Blomstedt - conductor: Andras Schiff - piano: Members of the Ge4wandhausorchester Leipzig
Running time

The Gewandhausorchester of Leipzig is one of the most established orchestras in Germany (it was the first orchestra in the world to play the complete cycle of Beethoven symphonies in 1825-26) and Herbert Blomstedt, the conductor of this concert, has developed a distinguished reputation for performing works by German composers – two of which were featured in this programme which began with Beethoven’s Leonora Overture No 2.

In his prodigious compositional career Beethoven wrote only one opera – Fidelio - which took him ten, agonising years. This overture was one of four versions he composed for the opera and is the one that was premiered in 1805 when the opera was first performed.

Scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, strings and an offstage trumpet, it creates a drama within itself. It was enthralling to witness Blomstedt’s minimalistic conducting technique. With no baton, and using only his fingers, he succeeded in not only having complete control over the orchestra but he also brought out the best in the musicians whose playing was exemplary throughout the entire concert – notably in the rising and falling of crescendos, of which there were many in Leonore and in the final piece, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 3 in A minor, the Scottish Symphony. The brass section featured prominently in both these pieces and their performance was outstanding.

The Gewandhausorchester frequently gave world premieres including Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 5 which was included in this programme. Andras Schiff, one of the world’s greatest pianists, was the soloist and what a pleasure it was to watch him play. His fingers glided over the keyboard with such assurance and his performance was the best interpretation I have ever heard of this familiar piano concerto.

At the end of the concert the audience showed their appreciation by giving a rousing reception and were rewarded by Blomstedt coming back onto the platform and conducting Beethoven’s Egmont Overture as an encore. With this exacting score, Blomstedt, at the age of eighty-nine, displayed his mastery at conducting.

Gewandhausorchester of Leipzig performed on 26 & 27 August