Pandemonium: Musgrave / Turner

MacLeod Hall, Pearce Institute, Govan

Done and dusted in a mere 15 minutes, Thea Musgrave’s Night Windows for oboe and 15 string players (adapted from her original oboe/piano version) may be a showpiece in compositional concision, but its true worth lies in the persuasive diversity of the vying emotions that inhabit its five short movements.

Here is a performance, marking the opening classical music contribution to artistic director Paul MacAlindin’s unfolding online Govan-based Pandemonium festival, completely at ease with Musgrave’s compelling response to voyeuristic assumptions inspired by the 1928 painting, Night Windows by Edward Hopper.

What is really going on inside the apartment, Hopper teasingly asks in his painting, concealing the closed-off life of the partly hidden female subject behind the window’s sturdy masonry? There’s a similarity in concept to the Glasgow tenement view in Avril Paton’s Windows in the West, but Hooper’s image is more enigmatic and sinister, its stark colour contrasts and cinematic suggestiveness firing up vivid musical equivalents in Musgrave’s kaleidoscopic score.

MacAlindin conducts this socially-distanced performance, featuring the exceptional Scottish Opera oboist Amy Turner with encircling members of his own Glasgow Barons Orchestra. Turner’s presence is mesmerising as the siren-like protagonist. Loneliness, the opening movement, cuts a spectral vision, the oboe’s free-spirited enchantment as serene as it is desolate, cushioned by ephemeral strings.

Then to the edgy freneticism of Anger, the mawkish pining of Nostalgia which luxuriates in the acoustic’s ambient glow to be finally left hanging in the air, the lyrical gloom of Despair and the final dizziness of Frenzy. This is a powerfully dramatic piece, containing a softness of heart we don’t always associate with the now 92-year-old Scottish-born, American-based composer, and a performance that beautifully captures its beguiling appeal.

As with all online material in these Covid times, sound and visual production is as key to successful presentation. Roderick Buchanan-Dunlop curates a clean and vibrant sonic outcome; the camera work by Progressive is lively and responsive. Perhaps an image of Hopper’s painting could have been woven in, given MacAlindin’s reference to it in the introduction, but otherwise a top quality result.
Ken Walton