Glasgow Cathedral Festival
Artistic Director Andrew Forbes and his small team achieve a minor miracle each year with their long weekend of diverse and often bold and experimental music in the superb environment of Glasgow Cathedral. Saturday evening’s programme was a good indicator of that range, and the unique atmosphere the building provides.
Cellist William Conway’s Hebrides Ensemble brought a programme that was diverse in itself, beginning with a quartet by Mozart and ending with a work for the same forces by Krzysztof Penderecki – the Polish composer to whose memory Sir James MacMillan has dedicated his new violin concerto.
Although Conway himself played in all but one of the five works, much of the focus in the recital was on Yann Ghiro and Scott Dickinson, principal clarinet and principal viola in the BBC SSO, with violinist David Alberman the other member of this edition of the versatile group.
Mozart’s Adagio for Basset Horn and String Trio might only have become such in the hands of German musicologist Ernst Lewicki, but its melodic material is familiar from the composer’s repurposing of it and the lead instrument is one for which he had a demonstrable enthusiasm.
Penderecki’s Quartet exploits the similar tonal range of the clarinet and viola in its opening and closing movements as the cello and violin add single note “drones” to the sound. The clarinet is also to the fore in the sprightly and slightly bluesy Scherzo; only in the third movement Serenade is there a more democratic share of the lead line.
The other curiosity by a big name was Leonard Bernstein’s Variations on an Octatonic scale, five bite-sized miniatures that fuelled his Concerto for Orchestra. They were performed here by Conway and Ghiro, and the fourth, with its staccato clarinet and pizzicato cello was a particular delight.
The programme was completed by two newer works from composers living or working in Scotland, David Fennessy and Helen Grime. Almost the definition of minimalism and restraint, with much use of harmonics, Fennessy’s Changeless And The Changed is a duo for violin and cello that takes a single musical idea, botanical in inspiration, and explores it thoroughly. To See The Summer Sky, by Grime, pairs violin and viola with the lower instrument often taking the lead, especially in the faster sections of the score.
If the Hebrides’ package presented an opportunity to hear music that rarely has an outing, the event that followed was a one-off delight. De Profundis: A Tribute to Scottish Miners began life at the East Neuk Festival five years ago, performed in smoky half-light in The Bowhouse, the former agricultural building that has become the festival’s main large venue.
This revisiting of the work by John Wallace, his professional brass-playing colleagues in The Wallace Collection, and Tony George, the tuba-playing director of the Tullis Russell Band who is now working with The Cooperation Band, also involved Renfrew Burgh Band. The massed brass also included, unbilled, a few players from Fife who simply wanted to be involved again and were prepared to travel to do so.
If the pit-invoking haze was less dense this time, the lighting and use of the building was twice as spectacular. The score Wallace has created, mining material from settings of Psalm 130, Out Of The Deep, ranges from classic brass band sound to choral polyphony, constantly in flux and with the glorious punctuation of a virtuosic trumpet solo from on high and a robust percussion interlude. From the quire of the cathedral, Brenda Craig recited the four poems that are part of the piece, one of them miner/writer Joe Corrie’s The Image o’ God.
Word had clearly got out that this was a spectacular not to be missed and the Cathedral Festival team were rewarded by a very good attendance for an occasion that will live long in the memory.
Picture of Hebrides Ensemble by David Lee