This year's Edinburgh festival has provided the opportunity to compare and contrast what are perhaps the two greatest orchestras in the world, with the Cleveland Orchestra giving a pair of concerts and the Royal Concertgebouw kicking off the final week with two more. Amsterdam's finest was conducted by its music director, Mariss Jansons, whose pair of programmes ventured significantly outside the repertory he normally conducts in Britain. The first concert was an all 20th-century affair, while the second was devoted to Mahler's Third Symphony.

Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments was pungent, bright-toned and crisply authoritative rather than elegiac. The first movement of Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta worked to a gut-wrenching climax; its finale saw an outpouring of irresistible energy. The first half over, wind and strings then combined forces for what was surely the British premiere (though not claimed as such) of Luciano Berio's Quatre Dedicaces. Four sharply contrasted miniatures, posthumously collected together, they form a sequence in which Berio's magical way with instrumental colour and texture is crystallised into a glittering display; a perfect showcase for such a great ensemble.

The 1945 suite from Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird may be a long-standing Jansons party piece, but the sheer splendour of his performance never fails to take the breath away, whether in the effortless elegance of the Concertgebouw's solo wind playing, the tonal depth of its string chording, or the astonishingly precise attack with which the chords of the final pages were delivered. Two encores – a wonderfully plush account of Solveig's Song from Grieg's Peer Gynt, an ebullient Brahms Hungarian Dance – maintained the sense of something very special indeed.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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