The Soldier's Tale
- Carol Main
- 22 August 2021
Ensemble leader Nicola Benedetti shares the plaudits in this Edinburgh International Festival production of Stravinsky's darkly witty work
For violinist Nicola Benedetti's final appearance of her Edinburgh International Festival residency, the assembled cast for Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale was something of a dream team. The combination of Benedetti herself leading a small ensemble of hand-picked instrumentalists (often to be seen as soloists and/or with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra), operatic treasure Sir Thomas Allen as narrator, TV star Siobhan Redmond playing the devil, and Anthony Flaum as the soldier promised a class act.
For the most part it was precisely that, although it took until Part 2 for the group to march fully into their stride. A jazz-influenced theatrical piece that is 'to be read, played and danced', there was no dance for this performance, possibly due to its staging in a huge, amplified tent space at Edinburgh Academy rather than a more intimate acoustic room where sound and vision are a given. With amplification of speakers and just seven instruments, Stravinsky's Faustian tale of selling out to the devil for untold riches lost some of its nuanced wit and edge, taking time for the pacing, rhythm and clarity of the voices to settle.
However, while he may not have danced, Flaum's unfussy acting portrayed the soldier for what he was: a deserter who elicits our sympathy as Satan takes his soul. Although Benedetti's name is top of the bill, and she came gloriously into her own at the incisive extended solo of 'Three Dances', each ensemble member doubled up as a virtuoso soloist and team player in what was ultimately an engaging and warm-hearted performance.
The Soldier's Tale was performed at Edinburgh Academy Junior School, Saturday 21 August; the concert is online at eif.co.uk/at-home, Friday 27 August–Friday 25 February.