To close the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival with such a programme proved a splendid idea. Valery Gergiev was on the rostrum and, on the basis of these performances, when he takes over the LSO, Simon Rattle will have his work cut out to equal such scintillating standards.
In the Suite from Béla Bartók’s censor-inducing ballet-score The Miraculous Mandarin (the full work completed in 1924), Gergiev drew theatrical play from the LSO to initiate an awesome spectacle of colours superbly articulated by every musician – what great playing from clarinettist Chris Richards. In the eeriest section of the Suite we heard sublimely fluent contributions from harp, oboe and strings. This terrific display of virtuosity was brought to an exciting ‘chase’ climax.
The music-making continued on the same high level with the arrival of Yefim Bronfman for Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.3, among his last works and almost a bequest to his pianist wife. Bronfman’s immaculate and sensitive piano-playing was superbly matched by the LSO whether in the lyricism and interplay of the first movement, the deeply felt pathos of the second-movement Adagio religioso – interrupted by nocturnal fireflies – and in the Finale’s vibrantly rhythmic character. This tremendous collaboration closed with an exceedingly optimistic culmination.
As an encore, Bronfman essayed 'Autumn Song' from Tchaikovsky's 12-movement cycle The Seasons, one piece for each of the months, this choice representing October.
Few works can bring a Festival to a close better than Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, and with Gergiev at the helm of the LSO, this was a winning combination. At once with the opening bars played on bassoon and horn, the music’s Slavic roots opened up and a fabulous exhibition of playing and interpretation followed – very exciting – the low strings relating to the ancient chant which Stravinsky uses in this seminal 20th-century masterwork. The terror of the ‘Ritual of the Rival Tribes’ exposed by the brass and the cleanly expressed intonations from the strings produced the most unearthly sounds imaginable, and in the ‘Dance of the Earth’ Gergiev maintained the most precise control, related only through eye-contact and his toothpick-sized baton – yet producing the greatest results. There was also superb management of dynamics and a glacial chill in the ‘Mystic Circles of the Young Girls’. The final ‘Sacrificial Dance’ brought The Rite, and the Edinburgh Festival, to a thundering and dramatic close: a timely reminder for those of us ‘north of the border’ as to what the LSO and Valery Gergiev are capable of.