Music review: Dorothea Röschmann | Russian National Orchestra
Edinburgh International Festival Scotsman review: Dorothea Röschmann/Malcolm Martineau and the Russian National Orchestra/Nikolai Lugansky, reviewed by Sarah Urwin Jones
The Edinburgh Festival might be known for the grand scale musical pyrotechnics that light up the Usher Hall, but the diminutive Queen’s Hall with its morning recital programme is for a number of people what the festival is all about. A lieder recital, a cup of tea and a slice of ginger cake – you couldn’t really get more civilised.
And indeed, if I were to look back on the soon to be departing festival director Sir Jonathan Mills’ tenure, and the highs and lows of his rather hit and miss musical programming, one of the concerts that remains squarely in my mind would be baritone Gerald Finley’s larger-than-life Queens Hall recital of Barber and Ives three years ago.
In that vein, when I look back beyond Mills and reach into the pool of memorable musical moments provided by his predecessor, Sir Brian McMaster, I pull out the festival debut, in 2001, of a young Dorothea Röschmann, whose flexible soprano, smoky timbre and brilliant, subtle characterisation had me transfixed.
Röschmann was back in Edinburgh last Monday in the Queen’s Hall with a darkly sonorous recital of Schumann, Wolf and Berg, accompanied by Edinburgh’s own keyboard genius, Malcolm Martineau. Röschmann’s voice has changed in the ten or so years since we first heard her here, the timbre darker, some of the lightness gone and an occasional harshness at full tilt, but the gorgeous clarity and characteristic power is still there.
Schumann’s Liederkreis was attentively sung, and once Röschmann had relaxed, the colour came out. Die Stille (Silence) was insightfully sung with the impatience of a young girl; Auf Einer Burg (In A Castle) was a masterclass in mournful, intimate storytelling.
The Wolf too, setting the erotic musings of pastor-poet Eduard Mörike, was darkly done. Again, Röschmann was best in the storytelling of Begegnung (Encounter), with shades of a much lighter side emerging in Liebeslied Eines Mädchens (A Girl’s First Love Song), as Röschmann had fun with the troublesome “eel”.
Berg’s Seven Early Songs concluded, mournful and substantial, yet it was Schubert’s Lied Der Mignon, in encore, that struck to the heart.
Back in the Usher Hall that night, the festival continued its larger scale bombast with the first of two concerts by the Russian National Orchestra. Formed in 1990 by their artistic director Mikhail Pletnev, the RNO are an idiosyncratic band, whose prowess is sometimes marred by messy entries.
No shortage of technical fireworks from their soloist, the Russian pianist Nikolai Lugansky, who had impressed in his Queens Hall recital last week. And yet this two-part concert of Russian masterworks – Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto and Glazunov’s ballet music, The Seasons – never matched its promise.
Lugansky’s hands frequently became a blur of motion in a technically bravura rendition of the piano concerto so many associate with the heightened emotions of the film Brief Encounter. And yet this performance never really gelled, from the occasionally rather stilted relationship between piano and orchestra to the dry interpretation of Lugansky, for all its virtuosic showmanship.
Conductor Pletnev, himself a much-admired pianist, rallied the RNO for The Seasons, played here, rather refreshingly, in its one-act totality, with lush timbres and sweeping melodies. No, it will not count as one of my highlights of Sir Jonathan Mills’ tenure. You would have to rewind a week to Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for that.