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Edinburgh International Festival: London Symphony Orchestra – Usher Hall

Conducted by Valery Gergiev

Brahms’ Tragic Overture and Symphony No 2 in D

Szymanowski’s Symphony No 2

Reviewer: Orson Ernest

[rating:5]

Taking the podium for his first Festival as Honorary President, Valery Gergiev brings the London Symphony Orchestra on a four night residency performing the complete symphonies of Johannes Brahms and Karol Szynanowski. Tonight, the second in the stint, brings as much majestic balance and restraint to one of Brahms’ most emotive works, as to colour to one of Szymanowski’s more difficult, restless symphonies, tempered by the formal singularity of the Tragic Overture, which opens the concert.

The Szymanowski is a tonally, rhythmically complex cloud of defiance. Written to challenge the conventions of late romantic Nationalism, and the trend set by his fellow Pole Chopin, Szymanowski wanted a Polish idiom more musically akin to innovators such as Strauss and Wagner than the folk inspired dances of his contemporaries. His fiery ambition burns grumpily in his Second Symphony, Gergiev gladly stoking the coals. Agitated wild rhythms, fierce harmonies and a resistance to melodic resolve build intensely throughout and the LSO respond with vigour and strength.

Brahms’ Second has divided critics since it was first performed, uncharacteristically composed in a relative outpouring of inspiration, in which Brahms truly found his voice. Intermittently cloudy skies are the setting for this allegedly pastoral work, and Gergiev masterfully balances the light and shade dynamic, which too often is underappreciated as dazzlingly sunny. The melancholy of the melodic lines and flux of their harmonic colour of the first movement, offset by the rhythmic tumult of the second, finally resolving with triumphal reference and borrowing melody from the stately, dignified Tragic Overture is a fitting resolve to a stunning program presided over with tenacity and strength. Catch the concluding half of their residency if you can.

On 17th of August only

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