Hebrides Ensemble

8 Nov 2004 in Highland, Music

Balnain House, Inverness, Saturday 6 November 2004

Despite that name, the Hebrides Ensemble don’t actually have any connection with the islands – they just liked the sound of the name and the Scottish connotations it evoked. The Ensemble was formed in 1991, and is Scotland’s leading chamber group specialising in contemporary music.

This concert was the opening event in their week-long tour under the auspices of the Scottish Arts Council’s Tune Up series, and is the first time they have actually performed in the Highlands (they don’t get quite as far as the islands that gave them their name). The group’s membership is a floating one, and they mustered a quintet for this well balanced programme of British music.

The music ranged in time from Herbert Howells’s ‘Rhapsodic Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet’ from 1919 to Anna Meredith’s ‘Hex II’ from 2001. The stylistic range was equally wide.

They opened with works for a duo of violin and cello and solo violin. Meredith’s  piece was played by David Adams and William Conway, and they succeeded in delivering her short but intense study in extremes of register and sonority in convincing fashion.

Daniel Bell produced an equally concentrated and musical account of George Benjamin’s ‘Three Miniatures’, first performed by Irvine Arditti in 2000. The three short pieces each evoked a different mood and style, and packed a great deal into a short space.

James MacMillan’s ‘Tuireadh’ introduced the two remaining players, clarinettist Yann Ghiro and viola player Catherine Marwood. This lament for the victims of the Piper Alpha tragedy is MacMillan’s most harrowing composition, and the listener is constantly confronted with the appalling violence of the event in the impassioned wail of the music.

The second half of the concert delved further back into 20th century music, opening with Howell’s highly agreeable ‘Rhapsodic Quintet’, with its pastoral echoes and allusions to folk song (Meredith’s piece also carried folk references, an ironic echo in this former centre for traditional music).

They closed with a work for string quartet, Benjamin Britten’s precocious ‘Quartettino’, a remarkably mature piece for a 16-year student to have written, even if he was one of the century’s great composers in the making. It rounded out a fine concert in memorable fashion.

The Hebrides Ensemble play at the following venues:
Macphail Centre, Ullapool, Monday 8 November 2004
Eilean Donan Castle, Lochalsh, Tuesday 9 November 2004
The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 11 November 2004
The Tolbooth, Stirling, Friday 12 November 2004
Greyfriar’s Kirk, Edinburgh, Saturday 13 November 2004

© Kenny Mathieson, 2004