Music: Martin, Swedish Philharmonic, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 4 stars

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MUSIC

Martin/Swedish Philharmonic Orchestra

Hall Usher, Edinburgh

Bruce Keith

Four Sterne Stars

The leadership of Usher Hall may have been waiting for clarity from the British authorities on the future program, but Jaime Martin, the Spanish principal conductor of the RTE National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, was unambiguous. He anticipated Sunday afternoon’s concert to be his last for some time, given the steps being taken elsewhere in his working world.

Coincidentally, it was also the last date of his tour at the helm of the Swedish Philharmonic with star soloist Viktoria Mullova, an ensemble also known as the Gavle Symphony Orchestra after his hometown, where he succeeded Robin Ticciati as principal conductor. Understandably, many of the potential Edinburgh viewers of the orchestra had obviously opted to stay away from the concert, but for some time, those who were in the hall would certainly recall this group of musicians’ distinctive string sound.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to a concert that started with the Fifth Symphony of Mendelssohn, the ‘Reformation,’ but its slow pace was the perfect introduction to this large chamber orchestra, whose violins, when it counted, were able to produce remarkable sonic delicacy. They brought the dynamic clarity after intermission to the opening movement of the Fifth Symphony of Jean Sibelius and also to the pizzicato passages later in the work, and it was that performance that really stood out, rather than the famous “swan theme” of the horns and brass providing a hook in the work.

In between, Mullova played the relatively little-heard Violin Concerto No. 2 by Prokofiev, a modest piece before the finale. She is the least flamboyant of musicians, but her rich tone still demanded immediate attention in the opening bars of the solo. Although the concerto lacks the melodies of the ballet music of the composer, it is full of atmosphere, and the more muscular, rhythmic final movement, which she performs here with total poise and grace, is completely to her taste.

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