EIF 2017: Festival First, Usher Hall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
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BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Tippett, Fantasia concertante on a theme of Corelli; MacMillan, Epiclesis: a concerto for trumpet and orchestra; Walton, Symphony No 2.
James MacMillan (conductor), Ole Edvard Antonsen (trumpet)
Running time

Sir James MacMillan conducted the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in three works which had received their first performance an Edinburgh Festival.

The first was Michael Tippett's Fantasia concertante on a theme of Corelli first heard in the Usher Hall on 29 August 1953. Written to celebrate the tercentenary of the birth of Italian composer Arcangelo Corelli. Malcolm Sargent having refused, Tippett himself conducted and it was the string section of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It is Tippett's reworking for the mid twentieth century of two consecutive sections of Corelli's Concerto Grosso in F major. Within the particularly large string section there was a concertino group of two solo violins and solo cello.

There was a lot of recording technology alongside and above the players. This presumably was the reason for a mass exodus of the players for rather a long time, before they and a very full orchestra reassembled for Epiclesis: a concerto for trumpet and orchestra composed by James MacMillan and first performed in the Usher Hall on 28 August 1993, although slightly revised five years later.

Roman Catholics, like the composer, as well as many Anglo Catholics believe in transubstantiation where epiclesis is the invocation of the Holy Spirit to make the bread and wine of the Eucharist into the actual Body and Blood. We heard fast and slow fighting their way against one another until together they became of one.

The triumph of the Eucharist was celebrated in excitement and with the talented solo trumpeter, Ole Edvard Antonsen, aided from up behind the Orchestra by two antiphonal trumpets. To emphasise the mystery of God the solo trumpet walked slowly off stage and continued playing whilst this extraordinarily moving music drew to a close.

The large orchestra was needed for William Walton's Second Symphony, he only wrote two, first performed in the Usher Hall on 2nd September 1960. Considered fuddy-duddy by younger critics at the time it has become recognised as a serious work. In three movements, the second was slow to be followed by the final Passacaglia with short exciting bursts, and ended with a brass fanfare.

An interesting concert that reminded us of some great music that had its first outing at an Edinburgh Festival, and conducted for us by Scotland's highly celebrated and much respected composer.

Performance: Saturday 19th August 2017 at 7.45pm.