I, Culture

Edinburgh International Festival Scotsman review (music): I, Culture at Usher Hall. Review by Ken Walton.

There is no more potent a voice against the futility of political or military conflict than the creative collectiveness of youth. We had that aplenty on Sunday when the multinational youngsters of the I, Culture orchestra presented a pairing of works which, in their own distinctive way, are pungent protests against aggression and warfare.

The musicians come from former Soviet bloc states, from Poland to the Ukraine, so the poignancy of Shostakovich’s Symphony No 7, depicting the German siege of Leningrad, and Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik’s lament for all war victims, the Sinfonia elegiaca, could hardly have been as forcibly articulated than at this particular moment in time, especially under Ukrainian conductor, Kirill Karabits.

It was a serious affair, not least the Panufnik: a continuous arch-like structure that rises from its whispered timpani introduction, through an opening movement muted by its lugubrious bittersweet harmonies and slow lilting momentum, to a central allegro that aches longingly to throw off its cloak of sorrow, but never quite manages, to a closing andante that mirrors the opening. As music, a little soulless perhaps. But these disciplined players captured well the inner angst.

The Shostakovich was deliberate and calculated in delivery, the unrelenting crescendo of the “invasion” section imbued with gutsy, gnawing pathos. The more peaceful moments drew wholesome eloquence from the ensembles, despite one or two wind and brass inconsistencies reminding us of their youth and inexperience.

But what an ending: blazing, sardonically exuberant, and something to send us home thinking.

Originally published in The Scotsman

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