Where would you go to hear the most electrifying and collegial orchestral playing in the world? It used to be Lucerne while Claudio Abbado was alive. Now that the Lucerne Festival Orchestra has become like any classy superband, the answer is Pärnu in the south of Estonia.

It’s a modest town of nearly 40,000 inhabitants, but its numbers treble in the summer, with visitors flocking to the eight-mile, south-facing white sand beach and the wooden villas in beautiful parkland (David Oistrakh and Shostakovich travelled westwards to Pärnu for their summer holidays). It also boasts a 900-seater concert hall, its 2002 inauguration having much to do with the championship of Estonia’s musical royal family, the Järvis.

… The jewel in the Pärnu festival crown is the heady mix of top western and Estonian players in what after five years has now become the Estonian Festival Orchestra. Is the Lucerne parallel far-fetched? Not when you consider the calibre of the instrumentalists … This is a string sound you’d go a long way to find …

Yet the highlight and denouement was always going to be Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony … I have never, anywhere, heard an orchestral unison that bore through the body like this one at the start. Climaxes raised the roof, but precisely; the maverick structure whereby two far from light scherzos follow one long slow movement struck home.

Read David Nice’s full review at