Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble/Minkowski – Edinburgh festival 2013 review

Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Marc Minkowski's Alpine ensemble attack a Schubert-only programme with boldness, but mixed success

Bassoonist-turned-conductor Marc Minkowski founded his spirited ensemble when he was just 19 and initially specialised in baroque music. More than three decades on, Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble have relocated from Paris to the Alps and roamed forwards and sideways in repertoire to cover the likes of Offenbach and beyond. In Edinburgh they're giving two concerts comprising entirely of Schubert symphonies – not an easy sell, judging by the number of empty seats at the first. And although his baroque opera is generally first-rate, Minkowski's Schubert proved a mixed bag. This concert was carried by its bravura, bold colours and moments of simple beauty, but too many intervening details were fudged or glossed over, and too much of the group's energy dissipated through surprisingly rough edges.

The boisterous First Symphony made a strong start: its youthful posturing suited the orchestra's playful tack. Les Musiciens make a beefy sound for a period-instrument group – for instance, Minkowski used nearly as many double basses as cellos, and elevated them above the rest of the strings like a kind of orchestral subwoofer. Inner voices were vibrant, the Andante had gentle poise, the Minuet was broad and stately.

But the stripped-down finesse of the Fifth Symphony didn't fare so well. The opening chords sounded lax, the main theme offhand, and there were patches of downright scruffy playing. In the second movement the winds didn't blend, and the finale felt on unsteady ground, with shifting tempos. Minkowski deserves special mention for trying to shut up the cough-happy Usher Hall audience with a firm extended hand gesture: it allowed him to create some beautifully hushed passages in the Seventh Symphony. But, as in the Fifth, this performance of the Unfinished rode on headline atmosphere above subtle nuance.

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Kate Molleson

The GuardianTramp

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