A postcard from Edinburgh

Oliver Condy reports on the riches on offer at the Edinburgh International Festival

A
a
-

No one could accuse the Edinburgh International Festival of sitting on its programming laurels – in just over 24 hours, we’ve been treated to a piano recital, two talks, an orchestral concert and a programme of heart-breakingLieder.

Pianist and BBC Music Magazine newcomer Francesco Piemontesi's recital at the Queen's Hall earlier yesterday was a display of virtuosity and versatility – crystal-clear Mozart and triumphantly cheerful Schumann contrasting with Webern's tightly-knit, terse Op. 27 Variations and Schubert's Sonata D845. Piemontesi possesses a superb touch – or perhaps that should be touches, every work crafted as if played, each time, on a different piano. Piemontesi isn't pigeon-holing himself. Long may that continue.

Tuesday evening's concert at Usher Hall brought the CBSO and Andris Nelsons together with his fellow Latvian, violinist Baiba Skride for Sofia Gubaidulina's extraordinary concerto 'Offertorium'. Its exploration and gentle pulling-apart – or offering up – of the theme from Bach's Musical Offering yielded extraordinary sounds from the orchestra both conflicting with and complementing Skride's solo part. If the concerto seemed like a battle of wills between soloist and orchestra, the final chorale-like section brought ultimate peace and resolution, as if a painful sacrifice had been worth it all along. Gubaidulina is a superb orchestral architect - her textures and musical archolding our attention throughout the concerto's 45 minutes.

Finally, Wednesday morning's Lieder recital by another English tenor, Toby Spence, was a return to the stage after months away from singing following an operation earlier this year to remove a tumour from his thyroid. On the bill was Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte, songs from Mahler's Des Knaben Wunderhorn and Schumann's Dichterliebe. Spencer's voice is very beautiful and expressive, but today it teetered, his high notes at times sounding a little tight. However, for someone coming back to a major stage (and live broadcasting) after a period of rest and recuperation, this was a stunning, defiant return. In lots of ways, his vocal struggles matched the pain and anguish contained within the repertoire, making his two-hour recital an emotional journey.