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2011.08.21 Concert, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh: Magdalena Kožená,Robin Ticciati

Edinburgh International Festival


21. August 2011  7:30 pm

Sophie Koch Mezzo soprano (Magdalena Kožená was indisposed)
Simon Keenlyside Baritone
Robin Ticciati Conductor
National Youth Choir of Scotland
Christopher Bell Chorus Master
Scottish Chamber Orchestra


Ravel Le tombeau de Couperin
Toshio Hosokawa Blossoming (EIF commission, World Premiere)
Duruflé Requiem

About the performance

Ravel’s poignant Le tombeau de Couperin is a beautifully emotive tribute to friends who died in the First World War; a heartfelt tribute to those who gave their lives during the conflict.

Toshio Hosokawa’s recent commissions include works for the Berliner Philharmoniker and the Cleveland Orchestra. An Edinburgh International Festival commission made possible by Donald MacDonald, Blossoming is a re-working of his 2007 string quartet of the same name, inspired by Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower-arranging. Hosokawa musically depicts the life-cycle of the flower creating what he describes as ‘newly born sounds with a very short life span’.

Written in memory of the composer’s father, Requiem is one of Duruflé’s best loved works.

Toshio Hosokawa: ‘fascinating, imaginative music’ The Times

This concert will be broadcast on 15 September 2011 on BBC Radio 3’s Performance on 3.

What the critics say

Michael Tumety, Herald Scotland, 23.8.2011

5 stars

SUNDAY night the night belonged to the National Youth Choir of Scotland. I cannot speak for anyone else in the crowded house, but at the end of NYCoS’s profoundly beautiful and endlessly-moving performance of Durufle’s Requiem, this listener was emotionally shattered.
I felt as though I hadn’t breathed since the deep, velvet voices of the lads had opened the Requiem, and was still in a state of suspension since the girls had joined them and, collectively and gently, with the immensely subtle direction and support of conductor Robin Ticciati and an SCO playing flawlessly, took the Requiem to the stars.

We know that NYCoS are good. We’ve known for many years just how good they are. They have been on the festival stage before. But this was transcendent. This was their night. This was the culmination of the work that Christopher Bell started from nothing 15 years ago.

This was a world-class choral performance. It was beautiful. It was indescribably polished and refined.

The sonority, clarity and purity of the words and notes they sang ring in my mind and heart as I write this.

For the record, mezzo Magdalene Kozena was unwell and didn’t make it to sing the Pie Jesu. Instead, another mezzo in town, Sophie Koch, who gave the Queen’s Hall recital yesterday morning, stepped in at the last moment, joining baritone Simon Keenlyside on stage.

And elsewhere in the programme, Ticciati conducted a dangerously fast version of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, and the mesmerising premiere of Hosokawa’s Blossoming 11, a gleaming gem of a piece that was at root a contemplative study in beauty, atmosphere and stasis.

Andrew Clark, FT.com, 22.8.2011

For a few precious minutes on Sunday, classical music entered the same orbit as the “east meets west” theme that dominates the Edinburgh Festival’s 2011 programme. It did so through the medium of Toshio Hosokawa’s Blossoming II, a short soundscape that uses western instruments in a traditional Japanese way – by reducing everything to symbolic strokes, understated and suggestive, as if every note was predicated on the “less is more” principle.

Until now most Japanese composers have been reluctant to treat their own culture as an equal with western music. The aim at best has been to graft a few wisps of Japonaiserie on to a fundamentally western style, at worst to bow down to a musical powerhouse that said everything Japanese aesthetics could not. Hosokawa (born 1955) knows his western source material as well as anyone. He studied extensively in Berlin and Freiburg and took part in the Darmstadt summer courses, notorious as a seedbed for ivory tower modernism. What Blossoming II tells us is that he has discarded most of the clutter that comes with such a schooling and retuned himself to his Japanese roots – those of delicacy and fragrance.

You have to listen hard to hear it. The new piece consists of whispering threads of violin sound, the breathing of horns, the quietest use of gong, bass drum and treble bells. The “blossoming” does not conform to the western idea of a Japanese garden. Its musical petals are unexpectedly dark and forbidding, and the metaphysical landscape in which they grow is as cold as a Siberian winter. They quickly wither into nothingness – like life itself. What the piece lacks is an enduring resonance – or could that be just another western misunderstanding of Japanese sensibility?

Blossoming II made a worthy EIF commission and received the quicksilver refinement it demanded from the SCO under Robin Ticciati, as did Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin. In Duruflé’s ecstatic Requiem after the interval, Sophie Koch and Simon Keenlyside were worthy soloists, but the stars were the 120-strong National Youth Choir of Scotland, bringing Presbyterian discipline to an arch-Catholic text.

Barbara Brian, Edinburgh Guide.com, 22.8.2011

4 stars

The concert at the Usher Hall with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra opened with Ravel’s composition Le Tombeau de Couperin. Originally for piano, Ravel had started to write it in 1913, but war intervened and the composition – in six movements – wasn’t completed until 1918.

His mother and many of his friends had died during the war and he dedicated the six pieces to lost companions. A year later he composed an orchestrated version of four of the movements – Prelude, Forlane, Menuet and Rigaudon. Despite the poignancy attached to the piece, Le Tombeau de Couperin possesses Ravel’s distinctive compositional style – a lightness, a frivolity, similar to spring awakening – and Robin Ticciati, the Principal Conductor of the SCO, brought out the best in the orchestra. Under his baton, their subtle playing enhanced the characteristics of the music.

Next on the programme was the World Premiere of Blossoming II by the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa. Commissioned by the EIF, Blossoming II is imbued with the essence of Japanese mysticism. As Hosokawa commented: “I am searching for a new form of Japanese spiritual culture and music, one through which I can remain true to myself as well as to my origins.”

The piece begins with a sustained note played by the strings. Barely audible, it sets the tone for this spiritual journey, inspired by the Buddhist symbol of a white lotus blossom which when it comes into flower signifies full enlightenment. And the music, with its exquisite haunting and delicate passages which build up to a crescendo, mirrors the progression from embryonic state to full blossom. A beautiful composition, Hosokawa received a marvellous reception from the audience.

The final composition was Maurice Durufle’s Requiem. Written in 1947, in memory of his father, this seldom performed work for orchestra, chorus, mezzo-soprano and baritone, is magnificent. Inspired by themes from the Gregorian ‘Mass for the Dead’ it consists of nine sections.

The tender introduction with the orchestra and choir is beautiful and as the piece progresses it at times swells to thrilling crescendos. The Kyrie, sung by the rich mezzo-soprano voice of Sophie Koch (who replaced Magdalena Kozena at short notice), is full of passion with its ponderous strings and imploring words: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” And Simon Keenlyside’s full baritone voice blended beautifully with the choir. And the National Youth Choir of Scotland, under the guidance of Christopher Bell, were superb. Their voices fluctuated magnificently from pianissimo to fortissimo.

Ticciati, who is becoming renowned as a conductor of choral works, so adeptly elicited from the orchestra and choir the profound emotion in this very moving Requiem. And at the end, Ticciati held the audience in the palm of his hand as we waited, in silence, for him to eventually lower his baton in reverence to the music.

Susann Nickalls, Edinburgh Festivals.com, 22.8.2011

Internationally, the Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa will inevitably be compared to his compatriot, the late Toru Takemitsu, but as the world premiere of his SCO commission Blossoming II revealed, he has his own distinct voice.

With the strings playing almost inaudibly at the beginning, the music grows into a richly layered piece full of subtle shifts of tone and colour.

Conductor Robin Ticciati clearly has a close affinity with Hosokawa’s robust and elemental musical language, beautifully setting high-pitched trills and glissandi harmonics against thwacking double bass strings and breathy woodwind and brass effects.

This careful attention to detail was evident too in the stunning performance of the original 1947 score for full orchestra of Durufle’s Requiem.

Engaging the fresh voices of the National Youth Choir of Scotland was an inspired move and these fabulously talented young singers, superbly drilled by chorus master Christopher Bell, stole the show particularly in the intense Domine Jesu Christe and Libera me.

Baritone Simon Keenlyside’s contributions gave dramatic impetus with mezzo-soprano Sophie Koch stepping in at the last minute to sing the Pie Jesu for an indisposed Magdalena Kozena.

Ravel’s backward musical glance in Le tombeau de Couperin also benefited from Ticciati’s extraordinary lightness of touch.

Ivan Hewett, The Telegraph, 22.8.2011

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra and its principal conductor, Robin Ticciati, have already become one of the great partnerships in British music. When Ticciati urges the players to finesse a phrase or harmonic turn, so that it seems to dissolve into air — as he very often does — they’re absolutely at one with him.

This Edinburgh Festival concert had many such moments of pure poetry. However, it got off to a disconcerting start with Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. These four tenderly nostalgic dances are already gossamer-light on the page. To make them even more fleet, as Ticciati did, meant the music became all dancing lightness and not much else. The emotional weight lurking under the surface didn’t register.

In that respect, the performance that followed of Toshio Hosokawa’s Edinburgh Festival commission Blossoming II was much more successful. Hosokawa is deeply concerned to revive a specifically Japanese sensibility, and the way he keeps returning to the image of the lotus emerging from water reminded me of Hokusai’s obsession with Mount Fuji.

This new piece followed Hosokawa’s typical pattern of emerging from utter stillness into distress and turbulence (the lotus “breaking the surface”) and then gathering itself back into a unity. But this familiar shape had a subtly new twist here, and was made vivid and moving by the wondrously sensitive performance.

By now we were ready for something on a bigger emotional canvas, which duly arrived with the final piece, Maurice Durufle’s Requiem. Any fears that Ticciati can only deal with exquisite lightness were dispelled in the Libera Me, which raised the roof.

Much of the credit for the performance’s fervour must go to the two excellent soloists Sophie Koch and Simon Keenleyside, and the National Youth Choir of Scotland, whose bell-like innocence of tone was exactly right for the music.

Kate Molleson, Guardian.co.uk,  23.8. 2011

5 stars

A good concert fits together like a good album, each piece working best in the company of its neighbours. Conductor Robin Ticciati plans accordingly – not just at the stage of choosing repertoire, but in tailoring his performances to fit their context.

At least, maybe that’s why he took Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, opening the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Edinburgh festival programme, quite so fast. In isolation it would have been too fast, and too strict; it missed the Forlane’s melancholy poise, the unhurried gentility of the Menuet, the playful push-and-pull of the Rigaudon. Instead Ticciati painted his colour gradation in dynamic swells and accents and articulation. The logic made more sense as the evening went on.

This fleeting Tombeau worked as a kind of prelude to Toshio Hosokawa’s Blossoming II, an Edinburgh-commissioned orchestration of the Japanese composer’s string quartet by the same name. Hosokawa musically traces the blossoming of a lotus flower: a unison-note stem sprouts tendrils that twist upwards in clinging intervals, then retreat back to the stem. It’s intricately written but the effect is a single vivid image, which the SCO portrayed with beautiful clarity.

After the interval, Duruflé’s Requiem was transcendent. Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena had called in sick and Sophie Koch, in town for a recital the next day, stepped in at a few hours’ notice. What a substitute – her velvet lower register was breathtaking in the Pie Jesu. Simon Keenlyside was the baritone soloist, also in superb voice, and the National Youth Choir of Scotland was outstanding. Ticciati paced the performance perfectly, applying the colour nuance of the Ravel and the clarity of the Hosokawa. About to start his third season as the SCO’s chief conductor, it’s this kind of warmth and vision that make their relationship so exciting.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jane September 6, 2011 at 8:56 pm

This sounds as if it was an absolutely wonderful concert. I would love to hear the Duruflé, but I don’t suppose it was recorded.

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