Festival reviews: SNO & EIF Chorus | BBC SSO | Waltraud Meier & Joseph Breinl | The Makropulos Case

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HOW closely as an alternative to Christianity Delius involved himself with Nietsche’s thoughts and beliefs is an open question. But he gleaned enough from them to provide a text for his Mass of Life.

It counts as one of his largest compositions, and what may well have been its only previous Edinburgh outing took place under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras in 1984.

Sir Andrew Davis, the SNO and EIF Chorus opened this year’s Usher Hall concert series with a resounding performance (* * * *) of the piece, even although it took time for matters of balance to settle into clarity.

On Saturday evening the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Donald Runnicles offered Beethoven’s Pastoral and Richard Strauss’s Alpine symphonies (* * * *).

There were two distinct standards of performance. The Strauss was superbly played, the Beethoven less so.

Maestro Runnicles is adept at handling the huge forces required to portray an ambitious mountaineering exploit, but he was less at home when rambling in the countryside.

It went without saying that the recital given by mezzo-soprano Waltraud Meier and accompanist Joseph Breinl (* * * *) would prove to be out of place in the vast reaches of the Usher Hall. Settings by Schubert and Schumann made up the first half of their programme. Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder followed on after the interval.

In it Breinl interpreted the piano reduction of the orchestral version convincingly and Meier’s singing was especially compelling in the third and fourth songs.

If Opera North had come to us at other than Festival time, their very fine production of Janacek’s The Makropoulos Case (* * * *) would almost certainly have made a greater impact.

There are moments when its unrelieved, recitative-like dialogue can make the listener long for an interesting ensemble or memorable tune.

Intriguing through it may be, it does not rank among the most appealing of operas, and that was reflected by the number of empty seats in the auditorium.

EIF Director Jonathan Mills obviously needs to give further thought to choice of suitable works for the Festival Theatre.

The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Tuesday concert had to be cancelled because of power failure in the Usher Hall.

• Edinburgh International Festival 2012 runs until September 2. Programme details www.eif.co.uk