Festival Music

King Olaf

Usher Hall

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Kelvin Holdsworth

three stars

PROGRAMMING decisions would be made long before the Brexit vote, but this oratorio of intra-European conflict sits a little oddly with the emphasis on the Edinburgh Festival being a consolidating post-war force for good. It is an odd piece too. The best of the music is over after the first 10 minutes and some slightly lacklustre solo singing didn’t make the best case for a modern reappraisal of its worth.

There was more passion to be had in the scenes of war than in those of love or peace. However the only things holding the random scenes together are the rhyming couplets of Longfellow which soon start to tire.

Stars of the show were undoubtedly the Edinburgh Festival Chorus who rose to the challenge of a monumental piece presumably previously unfamiliar to all of them. Their crisp consonants and dynamic range are a tribute to chorus master Christopher Bell.

Also on top form was the Philharmonia Orchestra. Andrew Davies was clearly enjoying the rich, lush, expansiveness of it all. However, the orchestra dominated the stage to the point that it was difficult for the solo singers always to be heard. Best amongst them was bass Matthew Rose. It was in his singing that obvious comparisons between Elgar’s Olaf and Wagner were to be made. Robert Dean Smith had committed his all to the tenor role, learning it by heart, but alas he struggled to make headway against the force of the orchestra. This was a pity as the tenor is Olaf, our hero. Soprano Erin Wall managed to punch her way through though ultimately there was no great sense of excitement at the front of the stage.