East Neuk Festival 2

Various venues, Fife

What’s the connection between strings, guitar, accordion, church organ and saw? Yes, I said saw – not an implement you expect to see in any normal musical line-up. But then, the music and diversity offered by the East Neuk Festival always has an air of mystique and innovation that sets it apart.

Sunday saw the close of this year’s musical journey, a trip from St Monans to St Andrews via Anstruther that was an utter delight. Duets, ensembles, solo work – whatever the combination and whatever the style of music, from Scarlatti to Philip Glass, it was delivered with the Festival’s customary class.

Classical music can be a serious business, so sometimes needs a lighter touch to break the routine. SCO cellist Su a Lee did just that when she and her long-standing friends – Mr McFall’s Chamber – brought an informal but still strictly professional touch to their Anstruther Town Hall programme. There was tango, both South American and European, North American swing and Elizabethan grace. Su a Lee, on musical saw, gave the performance an unusual but marvellous touch, yet it was one of the more sedate works that took top billing, Piazzolla’s Solitad, which was undeniably beautiful.

Prior to that, in St Monans Kirk, Sofia Ros (accordion) and Morgan Szymanski (guitar) embarked on a tour of Latin American music. Szymanski took the edge in terms of virtuosity – his programme seemed more challenging in that respect – but Ros’ brilliant dexterity shone in two Scarlatti sonatas, the first taken at breakneck speed.

The Festival was rounded off in customary fashion by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, a final concert with a difference as it used the organ in St Andrews’ Holy Trinity Church. It inspired some novel programming, with mixed success. Tom Wilkinson’s performance of Bach’s massive Fantasia and Fugue was impressive and magisterial, but the organ work that complemented it, Philip Glass’ Mad Rush, predictably repetitive, rather outstayed its welcome.

That was a mere blip in an otherwise triumphant programme in which more interesting Glass featured – his  American Seasons – with violinist/director Isabelle van Keulen as soloist. The work was fantastic, a take on Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, van Keulen’s solo performance capturing its fervent spirit. It was brilliance personified.

If Glass’ music took prominence, that’s not to say that Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations and Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten were lacking significant presence, superbly performed as one would expect from an orchestra firmly imbedded in the life of this fine Festival.

Garry Fraser

Photo by Neil Hanna