Glasgow Barons / MacAlinden

Pearce Institute, Govan, Glasgow

There was a note at the end of the printed programme for this concert that encapsulated what the Glasgow Barons are all about. “Please feel free to applaud as you feel,” it read.

The audience, arranged in a curve of seating around the players and close enough to see every note realised by the players, did not need asking twice. There are assuredly those who would have sniffed disparagingly, but the Govan Music Festival ticket-buyers clapped every movement of Anna Clyne’s cello concerto, Dance, and filled all the available gaps in Sibelius’s Symphony No 2 with applause. Did that impair the performance or our enjoyment of it? Not a jot.

The rest of the programme for the week-long festival is diverse indeed, with folk and rap, school choirs and the launch of a hip-hop album, but it all springs from the work of Glasgow Barons artistic director Paul MacAlinden. The conductor’s own concert sensibly opened with something that many in the audience would already know, Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.

Like composers of yore, Barber re-used the hit tune from the slow movement of his string quartet many times but this was the best-known version, and a perfect opener in the way it uses the sections. There was some variation in the use of vibrato within those – and more consistency in the lower strings – but MacAlinden was more concerned with the overall balance and shape of the piece.

It turned out to be the best possible work to preface the Clyne concerto, with Bartholomew LaFollette as soloist, because the composer’s sound palette for the opening movement is very similar, before the cello enters at the top of its range, joined by the similar frequencies of flute, oboe and bowed percussion. The elegiac melody of the third movement also seems to owe a little to Barber’s influence.

Each section of the work is named for a single line from a verse by Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet whose work has inspired many composers. That’s particularly clear in the second movement, “If you’ve torn the bandage off”, when LaFollette had a great deal more to do and the orchestral music was full of Eastern sounds, rhythms and accents. The fourth movement, “In your blood”, looks to earlier Western music, beginning with the structure of a canon and then subverting it with wind machine, gong, timpani and tuba.

Dance is a big piece, as much an ensemble work as a virtuoso showpiece, although LaFollette brought a compelling intensity to his part. MacAlinden and his team deserve huge credit for giving the Clyne its Scottish premiere.

There were a lot of good things about the Barons’ Sibelius 2 as well, although it was sometimes a little over-powering in the venue, and the conductor could perhaps have done more to keep the sound at a sensible level. Having said that, the first pizzicato crescendo was right on the button and sitting in the firing line of brass and timps on one side and five horns on the other was often rather thrilling.

Keith Bruce