Opera Scotland

King Olaf 2017Edinburgh International Festival

Read more about the opera King Olaf

Impressive performance of rare early Elgar

2017 is the 70th year of the Edinburgh International Festival, and the opera programme is a celebratory one with a distinctly expanded line-up of nine works.

There were three further events, not part of the opera programme, but which should be highlighted. No Festival visit is complete without a morning concert at the Queen's Hall. Here there is a prelude to the Monteverdi event in the form of Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in a recently discovered transcription by Heinrich Schütz. The gloriously dramatic Damnation of Faust by Berlioz is performed by Mark Elder and the Hallé, while the Festival continued its exploration of rare Elgar with a revival of the cantata King Olaf.

If last year's Apostles gave long overdue exposure to a neglected masterpiece, the case for Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf is less clear cut. It is an early work and the most ambitious in scale that Elgar had thus far attempted. It is therefore hardly surprising if the musical results are inconsistent. Some sections in the middle are less gripping than they might be. Towards the end Elgar inserts an unaccompanied chorus of a type which Victorian audiences expected, but which was distinctly old-fashioned by 1896. Never mind - there is a great deal of very fine music in the early sections and at the end, and it would be a great loss if these were never to be heard. Much of the orchestration is worthy of mature Elgar, while the choral part is long and demanding.

Fortunately the Edinburgh Festival Chorus were on superb form, ably supported by the Philharmonia. Andrew Davis certainly made the most of this generally attractive work. The solo writing is also demanding, especially for the tenor. It is perhaps surprising that such an exalted trio would be willing to learn a challenging piece with little likelihood of repeats in future years. It was especially pleasing to hear Robert Dean Smith, one of the most notable Wagner tenors of the past twenty years. He had a lengthy role, he had committed it to memory so dispensed with a score, and he was not scheduled to sing anything else at the Festival. We must he grateful for his excellent performance.

The other two key performers had other appearances in the Usher Hall to justify their visit. Erin Wall has appeared several times in Edinburgh and would give a peerless performance as Ellen Orford a couple of days later, while Matthew Rose had sung Hunding a few days earlier.

In any event the enthusiastic audience in a crowded Usher Hall clearly enjoyed hearing the piece. Let us hope  for further works of a similar kind.

Performance DatesKing Olaf 2017

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Usher Hall | Edinburgh

11 Aug, 20.00

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