EIF: KBS Symphony Orchestra / Inkinen

Usher Hall, Edinburgh
An important ingredient of any Edinburgh International Festival is the arrival of an orchestra few of the audience will have had an opportunity to hear before. As part of the partnership Focus on Korea in Festival and Fringe this year, the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) Symphony Orchestra ticked that box, bringing a very accessible programme of the Dvorak Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony under Chief Conductor Pietari Inkinen.

The works are close together chronologically in terms of composition – the Dvorak 1895, the Tchaikovsky 1888 – and share the characteristics of memorable melody, uncanny orchestration, and unbridled passion. Dvorak had to be persuaded to a second attempt at a cello concerto but the result is one of the most performed for the instrument, while Tchaikovsky combines some of his darkest moments with his most jubilant in the symphony.

Young Korean cellist Jaemin Han is a superbly exciting performer with all the qualities to propel him to the top of the profession. His technical ability is married to melodic sensitivity, razor-like sharpness and a sort of passive aggression that made his Dvorak far more than a fine performance of a golden oldie. 

The style and flair he displayed in the outer movements were surpassed by a communication with the orchestra in the Adagio, the tranquillity momentarily shattered by a robust middle section, real passion in the soloist’s performance.

Finnish conductor Pietari Inkinen is in the first year of his appointment with the KBS, and the Tchaikovsky in particular suggested a relationship developing nicely. There was a lovely gradual ensemble build-up in the first movement, an excellent horn solo in the second and a memorable vitality to the waltz before the crashing chord that heralds the finale.

Czech and Russian music, played by a Korean orchestra, with a Finnish conductor: it is what an international festival is all about.

Garry Fraser