RSNO, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce, four stars

IN what is a diplomatically fascinating cultural exchange, this “China Story” programme, showcasing one of China’s foremost contemporary composers and four of the country’s star soloists, will also visit Germany, where one of them, violinist Lu Wei, is leader of Robin Ticciati’s new orchestra, the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin. The two gala concerts in Scotland required every inch of stage in our main concert halls, but filling the auditorium for the music of Xiaogang Ye was always likely to be a struggle.

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Those curious enough to attend were treated to a crash-course in a compositional style that fuses 20th century Western style (notably Britten and Andriessen) with ethnic Eastern sounds, and a structural approach that displayed instantly recognisable tropes in the passing of a theme through solo voices to the ensemble to begin, and reversing the process in a diminuendo at the end. We heard that first in double concerto for violin and percussion, Mount E’mei, the newest piece, on which percussionist Hu Shengnan stole the show with a sensational solo passage. It re-appeared after the interval in the mini-piano concerto Scent of the Green Mango, where the thematic baton was passed from cellist Betsy Taylor, via the viola of Tom Dunn, to soloist Wan Jieni.

Bass-baritone Shenyang, who won BBC Cardiff Singer of the World a decade ago, clearly has a deep personal investment in Xiaogang Ye’s The Song of Sorrow and Gratification, setting Li Shutong’s Buddhist text, and its operatic moments also featured the most thorough scoring for the orchestra. It sounded much less than a wide ocean away from Britten’s Peter Grimes, from which the Four Sea Interludes had closed the first half, and in which conductor Gilbert Varga captured the essence of Moonlight rather more effectively than the concluding, slightly bloodless, Storm.