Edinburgh Festival 2012: European Union Youth Orchestra, Usher Hall, review

Garrick Ohlsson
The Telegraph

By Ivan Hewett

The European Union Youth Orchestra offered flashes of genius at Usher Hall for Edinburgh Festival 2012.

One always hopes Edinburgh’s classical music programme will turn up some interesting rarities, and the European Union Youth Orchestra’s concert on Thursday certainly offered a juicy one. This was the Piano Concerto by the great virtuoso pianist and visionary composer Ferruccio Busoni. After the 1904 premiere a baffled Berlin critic wrote, “Noise, eccentricity and lack of control provoked yet more noise... during the five movements we were submerged in a flood of cacophony... a Pezzo giocoso painted the joys of barbarians lusting after the war, and a Tarantella the orgies of absinthe drinkers and common prostitutes.”

I’m not sure about the prostitutes, but apart from that I couldn’t put it better myself. Busoni’s hour-long monster eventually climaxes in a setting of a bizarre poem in praise of Allah (written by a Dane). All this is expressed through Lisztian piano heroics, and orchestration so bottom-heavy it often sounded as if a London tube-train was miraculously passing under the Usher Hall.

And yet there were flashes of genius, and the combination of conductor Gianandrea Noseda’s fevered urgency and Garrick Ohlsson’s magisterial, glittery pianism — touched here and there with self-mocking humour – was certainly piquant.

The real meat of the concert came in the two short pieces before the interval. The grey-clouds melancholy of Debussy’s Nocturnes was beautifully caught by these brilliant young players, and also the dreamy song of the sirens (impersonated by the ladies of Edinburgh Festival Chorus) in the final movement. Only the central portrayal of a festival disappointed, seeming merely quick rather than excited.

The real discovery was Richard Causton’s Twenty-Seven Heavens, one of 20 new works commissioned for London 2012. This had all the spiritual ambitions of Busoni’s piece, but whereas that was all clouds and hot air, Causton’s was as sharply outlined and brilliantly coloured as a stained-glass window.