Live Reviews

EIF 2015 review: Modigliani Quartet

First published in The Herald on 12 August, 2015

Maybe it was nerves, maybe it was just too early in the morning. This recital by France’s Quatuor Modigliani took time to settle, but when it did — after the interval with Dohnanyi’s gorgeously rich-hued Third String Quartet — the playing was focused, ballsy and eloquent. Second violinist Loic Rio snapped a string in the finale, but if anything the group’s playing was at its most free and charismatic when they trooped back on to complete the piece, pressure dissipated, string mended and (presumably) coffee kicked in.

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Review: Kellie Consort

First published in The Herald on 4 August, 2015

The Kellie Consort arrives on the scene with the irrefutable if not entirely sexy epithet of ‘Scotland’s only pre-professional baroque ensemble’. Imagine an under-25s version of the Dunedin Consort with stabilisers still on. Its director, Tom Wilkinson, is a PhD student of Dunedin’s John Butt and a diligent, sensitive musician with the kind of energetic enthusiasm that makes things happen. At St Andrew’s, where he is university organist, he has injected new clout into the Chapel Choir by delving into archive repertoire and pursuing a self-run record label.

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Review: JLA’s Across the Distance

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First published in the Guardian on 7 July, 2015

“Can music resonate with the world around us, and yet still create a world of its own?” This is a typical question posed by the composer John Luther Adams, and his own music resolutely answers it: yes. JLA’s outdoor works make us hear our environment as much as the notes themselves. He calls the process ‘ecological listening’, and though he dislikes the term ‘political art’ (“bad art, bad politics,” he once told me), his nature pieces are eco activism by stealth. It’s a simple strategy and it works: the more we pay attention to our environment, the more we might care about it.

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Review: Dunedin Consort at East Neuk 2015

First published in The Herald on 6 July, 2015

Relaxed, boisterous and a little bit raucous, John Butt and the Dunedin Consort made an overdue East Neuk debut at Cambo Barn — an industrial potato shed cum festival staple for larger ensemble concerts. This year the venue had added feature of farmyard-chic tattie crates lining the back of the stage, which if anything seemed to improve acoustics.

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Review: Rysanov/Wass/Brentanos at East Neuk 2015

First published in The Herald on 6 July, 2015

Maxim Rysanov is a magnetic musician, and the kind of muscular, full-throttle viola player who can make an innately mellow instrument roar. It’s not all fire and machismo — his legato lines are golden, his quiet sound is gorgeously warm — but nothing in the Ukrainian’s performances happens by halves and nothing is shy. The first of two East Neuk Festival appearances found him in duo with Ashley Wass, an English pianist with a cool and chiselled touch. The pairing really worked.

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Review: Brentano Quartet at East Neuk 2015

First published in The Herald on 6 July, 2015

It feels a bit churlish to complain when a sound is too beautiful, too consistent, too polished. Classical musicians spend decades honing techniques to achieve exactly these qualities, then we turn around and demand something rough, uneven, unpredictable, plain ugly? Well yes, sometimes. Or rather, it’s the music that makes the demands.

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Review: Simoon

First published in the Guardian on 11 June, 2015

There’s a tricky mystique to the music of Scottish composer Erik Chisholm, who died 50 years ago this week. Partly it’s his deft brew of exotic and local, modernist and earthy, so enthralling in his finest works — listen to the piano concertos or the gorgeous Violin Concerto. But there’s also the prosaic factor that most of his music is hardly ever played; we just don’t hear enough to form a full picture of this composer at his best and his less-good.

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Review: Watching Over You

First published in the Guardian on 20 May, 2015

Watching Over You, a new song cycle by composer Rory Boyle setting texts by Dilys Rose, is a hushed and intimate account of new motherhood. Seven poems share the first-person thoughts of a woman shortly before, during and just after childbirth. The language is unambiguous, occasionally simplistic; there are plain descriptions of trepidation, doubt, bafflement, gushing tenderness. Boyle treats the verse with carefully luminous textures, leaving plenty of room for the words to resonate and painting warm colours with vibraphones, low flutes and lapping violins. Red Note Ensemble played it all sensitively under conductor Jean-Claude Picard.

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Review: Lau

First published in the Guardian on 15 May, 2015

There’s devious melancholy to the verse depicted on Glasgow’s coat of arms: Here is the bell that never rang/ Here is the fish that never swam. Actually the lines refer to the miracles of St Mungo and that cheeky dolefulness masks a certain chutzpah; to me it always seemed a quintessentially Glaswegian trick.

Lau are currently touring their latest album, The Bell that Never Rang, whose long title track was commissioned around last year’s Commonwealth Games and whose subtle, boisterous cleverness treads a similar line to that verse. Lau are typically referred to as ‘experimental folk’, usually with various glowing superlatives attached. They compose in intricate layers, play about with form, motor along to fun, glitchy beats and the odd bout of grungy electro-acoustic noise-making. Bartok’s string quartets were an inspiration and it shows in the motivic development. Mainly the tunes on The Bell That Never Rang are sturdy and supremely singable, thrumming with the exuberance of dazzling players and inventive musical minds.

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Review: Il Trovatore

First published in the Guardian on 8 May, 2015

It has not been the cheeriest spring season at Scottish Opera. Physical and psychological brutality prevail in MacMillan’s Ines de Castro, Janacek’s Jenufa and now Verdi’s Il trovatore, three operas dealing in infanticide and maternal trauma. Oddly, this production of Verdi’s dark tale — an old Martin Lloyd-Evans staging — opens in slapstick when a lone soldier gets a fright and tumbles from his perch, but the laughs soon fizzle as Ferrando recounts how a gypsy woman once threw a baby into the fire to avenge her mother’s death.

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