Hebrides Ensemble

14 Nov 2008 in Highland, Music

OneTouch Theatre, Eden Court, Inverness, 10 November 2008

Martin Suckler (Photo - Tessa Oksanen)

AS THE Edinburgh Quartet proved recently, the acoustic in the OneTouch Theatre is proving a difficult one for chamber music. Amplification removes many of the disadvantages for other styles of music, but the dry acoustic lacks any real natural richness and bloom for the string instruments, and projection of the music off the platform and into the auditorium is problematic.

The Hebrides Ensemble made a better job of overcoming these difficulties, and did not allow a disappointing attendance to dampen their commitment to playing the music in this challenging but very enjoyable programme. It was structured around three main works for the unconventional combination of string quartet and voice, leavened with three more works made up of jewel-like miniatures for smaller combinations of instruments.

The voice they had selected was that of mezzo-soprano Jane Irwin, and an excellent choice it proved. Her role was limited in Martin Suckling’s Aotromachd / Lightness, a setting of Meg Bateman’s Gaelic poem commissioned for this tour, but she sang the eight-line Gaelic lyric beautifully, followed by a spoken version of the English text interspersed with gently hummed reminders of the melody.

Suckling’s thoughtfully structured instrumental music on ether side of this central section (which was set largely against glistening high harmonics) alternated between fiercely driven dissonant tangles and gentler melodic passages.

Respighi’s Il Tramonte is something of a rarity on concert programmes, and it was good to hear something of his other than the familiar orchestral sketches. The piece allowed the singer to display her best bel canto mode in a romantic setting of an Italian translation of Shelley’s melancholic poem ‘The Sunset’.

Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2, a benchmark work for this combination, provided a gripping finale to the concert. It was superbly performed by all five participants in a concentrated, intense and deeply felt account of a work that marks a pivotal moment in the composer’s passage into atonality.

The shorter pieces were no less impressive. Catherine Marwood and William Conway opened proceedings with Lutoslawski’s colourful and tricky Bucolics for viola and cello. Violinists Alexander Janiczek and Zoe Beyers tackled a diverse selection from Berio’s Duetti per due Violini, a series of brief, beautifully constructed homages, the last of which, ‘Aldo’, hovered on the edge of audibility in gorgeously sustained pianissimo playing, while Janiczek revelled in the extended instrumental techniques of George Benjamin’s Three Inventions for solo violin.

Another new work by a young Scottish composer also received an Inverness performance the following evening, this time in the acoustically excellent Town House. The Kungsbacka Piano Trio performed Ellon-born Helen Grime’s The Brook Sings Loud, a piece commissioned by the Aberdeen Chamber Music Club and the Sound festival for the group.

Grime made absorbing play with contrasting musical materials and instrumental timbre in the course of the work. Her structural use of theme and increasingly complex variations with elaborate ornamentation was directly inspired by Pibroch. Each instrument had a featured cadenza, while clever interaction between all three was a notable feature of the music.

© Kenny Mathieson, 2008