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Performing Arts: Edinburgh International Festival round-up

30 August 2022

William Dundas on his Edinburgh International Festival experiences


Ryan Buchanan

The soprano Liv Redpath (Michal) and the counter-tenor Iestyn Davies (Saul) in Saul

The soprano Liv Redpath (Michal) and the counter-tenor Iestyn Davies (Saul) in Saul

THE Czech Philharmonic set the Usher Hall ablaze with their account of Janáček’s Glagolitic Mass, setting each movement firmly down in Old Slavonic texts, sung by the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and a quartet of soloists, Evelina Dobračeva, Lucie Hilscherová, Ales Briscein, and Jan Martinik. The organ solo was unleashed with idiomatic bravura by Daniela Valtova Kosinova. Semyon Bychkov conducted, as ever, with energetic discipline.

He was also the conductor of their performance of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony. This symphony was premiered by this orchestra, conducted by Mahler, in 1908. This performance in the Usher Hall was lively, detailed and stylishly delivered. The Czech Philharmonic would seem to own this symphony.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO), conducted by Thomas Sondergard, brought us Mahler’s Third Symphony, also in a precision-detailed performance. They were joined by the mezzo-soprano Linda Watson and female members of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus and the RSNO Youth chorus to sing of God’s forgiveness of St Peter. The noble slow finale set off well, but became ragged and unravelled as the symphony reached its conclusion. This unfortunately blighted an otherwise fine performance.

I was pleased when it was announced that John Butt was the replacement conductor for this performance of Handel’s Saul. Butt is my kind of Handel conductor: stylish but with impetus. This Usher Hall concert was sung by the soloists, Neal Davies, Iestyn Davies, Andrew Haji, James Gilchrist, Sophie Bevan, and Liv Redpath, in character mode: their body language underlining their sung texts. The English Concert and the Choir of the English Concert created glorious accompaniments for the entire performance. Bliss without longueurs!

The performance was filmed and will be streamed, in the future, on the websites of The English Concert and the Edinburgh International Festival.


 © Toni WilkinsonJulia Hales in You Know We Belong TogetherJULIA HALES is 38 years old and has watched every episode of the Australian soap Home and Away. She has Down syndrome. Her play, You Know We Belong Together, is an acted documentary peppered with philosophy and humour. This production is from the Black Swan State Theatre Company, Perth, WA.

Julia has two ambitions. Home and Away does not have a character with Down syndrome. One ambition is to fill that gap, and the other is to find love. The set is based on the famous diner at Summer Bay.

She communicates with the audience, from the stage, as if it was a collective friend. As she reached maturity, she declined the offer of plastic surgery to reduce the impact of her Down-syndrome features. She seeks to be seen and accepted for who she is. Other characters in the play discuss intimate topics regarding their perceived acceptance or otherwise in society.

Julia was supported by her mother, who instilled self-confidence in her. Her mother has died, but is still spiritually her best friend. She shows family photos. Her life is similar to our lives,

She confides in us that she is happy to have been born when she was. Born earlier, she would have lived, trapped, in a state hospital. Today, she might have been aborted. We really do belong together!


Andrew PerryThe musicians acknowledge the applause after The Dream of Gerontius

ELGAR’s The Dream of Gerontius was performed impeccably by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, and the National Youth Choir of Scotland, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. The soloists were Andrew Staples (Gerontius), Karen Cargill (Angel), and Iain Paterson (Priest).

The large orchestra played with the transparency and flowing lines of a chamber performance. Most notable were the dovetailing of Gerontius’s lines with the orchestral phrasing. Cargill sang an expressive and empathetic Angel. Paterson was magisterial and commanding as the Priest, his quiet phrases filling the hall. The choruses sang with poise and vigour. They anchored the performance and provided nobility to the conclusion.

This Dream of Gerontius was beautifully crafted and delivered. It was the final concert of Fergus Linehan’s directorship.

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