Edinburgh, Respighi, Karajan and Toscanini

Written on March 27, 2009 by Felicia Appenteng in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Emilio Sáenz-Francés

Attending a concert of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is undoubtedly an amazing and revealing experience. This is, without doubt, one of the best orchestras in Europe. In my case, the occasion was only overshadowed by fact that the last performance I attended was a celebration of St. Valentine's Day, so I feared -using Dickens's words in A Christmas Carol– to feel, alone and without a partner as I was, a wretched outcast. Luckily enough I was quite not the only lonely person at Edinburgh's Festival Theatre. The concert, a light and diverse selection of pieces from Morricone to Mahler, made me think about the particular and unique spirit and tone the orchestra and the brightness of its conductor can imprint upon a piece of music. In this case, the subtle interpretation of Ravel's Bolero, quite different from the versions I already knew, aroused completely new emotions from the ones I have previously experienced when hearing it.

My particular interest in this field has taken me to one of my favourite music pieces, Pines of Rome, by Ottorino Respighi, one of the hidden wonders of Italian music of the XX century. If by any chance you need to cheer up after a hard day of working, you will find the necessary soundtrack for it in the powerful Pines of the Appian Way; a movement that vibrantly evocates the arrival of a victorious Roman legion to the Eternal City in the mists of the morning. Youtube offers a unique opportunity to compare two magnificent examples not only of the performance of this piece, but of two completely different styles of conducting; a complete discovery for me, as the owner of a very different version, conducted by Lorin Maazel. First of all, an ageing Herbert von Karajan, commanding the orchestra only with the power of his sight, resulting in a thrilling performance, crowned by the impressive relaxation of his facial muscles after its conclusion and climax.


On the other hand, an exuberant Arturo Toscanini; himself a close friend of Respighi. The composer bravely protected him from the wrath of Fascism in the early thirties. The Italian commands all and every one of the music's inflections, revealing with his gestures the rage that made him famous during the rehearsal of so many performances. In this case the result is amazingly dynamic. A musical parade full of rhythm and energy.


I will attend a concert of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra early in May, in Glasgow, this time under the direction of its official conductor, Stéphane Denève. The occasion: The very English and undeniably glorious Sea Symphony, by Ralph Vaughan Williams; without doubt one of the heights of last century British music. I am sure it will be an unforgettable experience.



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