On Saturday, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus (Christopher Bell as chorus master) performed Michael Tippett's "A Child of our Time" at Edinburgh's Usher Hall as part of the Edinburgh Internation Festival. I found it odd the festival chose to perform a piece by a British composer using American folk music, conducted by a Russian. Much of this years festival music and performers were from Eastern Europe, so the choice in conductor was not so strange. However, the choice of music didn't seem to fit.
Mr Rozhdestvensky did not seem to struggle with the music, the tempo or any technical aspect of the piece. However, the orchestra played with a lack of enthusiasm that made me feel as if they were bored with the music, perhaps with the festival. The music needed to have a passion, a punch to it. Only on a couple of occasions was this passion evident. Most of the time the players seemed to be just going through the motions. Could this be attributed to Mr Rozhdestvensky, who also seemed to be going about the paces, but not really giving the performance any more than absolutely necessary? Numerous points during the performance, the orchestra overwhelmed the vocalists. Part of this was the orchestration, but certainly the conductor has to know when to allow the orchestra to play out and when to hold them back. The BBC Scottish Symphony displayed a range of dynamics, but not necessarily always at the right time, and certainly not with the finesse necessary for a festival performance.
Fortunately, this is not true of every one on stage. The vocalists were excellent. Nicole Cabell, a soprano from the US, did a fabulous job of interpreting the music, giving it a sense of soul and passion it desperately needed. Jane Irwin, mezzo-soprano, was not as strong vocally struggling to be heard at a couple point in her rendition of "Man has measured the heavens with a telescope" but shined when it came to "Pity breaks open the heart." John Mark Ainsley, tenor, gave a lovely performance of "I have no money for my bread" but suffered with an orchestration that seemed to pit the orchestra against the tenor. John Tomlinson, bass, was perhaps my favorite with a clarity and power unmatched by anyone on stage. His voice cut through at every moment with diction to make what he sang not only powerful, but understandable.
The Edinburgh Festival Chorus are in a class of their own, however. The depth of emotion they achieved, with clarity and feeling that any chorus would be envious of. Christopher Bell has a reputation for getting the most out of his performers and this chorus only added to his list of credits.
In the end, the evening was enjoyable. While I was not impressed with the orchestra, the chorus and vocalists more than made up for it. Over all I'd rate the performance three out of five stars. The subject matter of this piece should have left me exhausted, it didn't. It did, however, feel as though rehearsing this piece exhausted the orchestra.