Tag Archives: Glasgow Barons

Pandemonium: Sweeney

The Galvanisers, SWG3, Glasgow

Govan’s ongoing online music festival, Pandemonium, moves northwards across the River Clyde this week with the release of a single performance of William Sweeney’s suite for strings, Sian Orainn. The venue is The Galvanisers, part of the former Clydeside industrial yard now known as SWG3, and perfect as an adaptable bare-bricked performance space for these socially-distancing times.

That ruggedness is ideal for Sweeney’s atmospheric treatment of the South Uist songs that are the basis of the suite’s six-movement sweep, and which the strings of the Glasgow Barons Orchestra – a slick freelance band under Pandemonium’s artistic director, Paul MacAlindin – embrace completely as a resonant soundboard. The irrepressible folk muse casts its spell at every turn and in numerous hues.

Written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s Highlands and Islands Tour in 1989, these six songs range from the patriotic to the pious, the romantic to the pragmatic. And while Sweeney conserves the traditional melodies themselves, his treatment of them, both virtuosic and affectionate, gives fresh character and dimension to their central presence. 

The galvanising unisons of “O my country” are a sturdy framework to the episodic solos that intersperse, immediately countered by the pragmatic motorised pace of “Have you seen Euphemia”, a waulking song with a catchy, jaunty gait. Ghostly heterophony adds wistfulness to the third song, shades of English pastoralism strike a foreign note in Buxom Mór, before the painful fate of the cook-in-the-pot drake – the one moment where the string ensemble falters from its otherwise solid togetherness – gives way to the solemn density of “Praise to the Saviour”.

MacAlindin’s players, led by Ben Norris, are a young outfit with fire in their belly. Between the many solo demands of Sweeney’s hauntingly coloristic score, and the mix of translucent and full-bodied texturing he variously calls upon, the Barons’ lustre and finesse capture the iridescence of these alluring pieces.
Ken Walton 

Watch the concert via Vimeo at glasgowbarons.com

Pandemonium: Tchaikovsky

Pearce Institute, Govan

The title conductor Paul MacAlindin chose for The Glasgow Barons season of filmed concerts for the Covid era, Pandemonium, might better suit the other work Tchaikovsky wrote in 1880, The 1812 Overture, with its booming canons celebrating Russian resistance to Napoleon. The composer, however, thought that a worthless piece of hackwork and was dismayed by its popularity, while the Serenade for Strings, a suite of four movements of meticulous construction that falls, purposely, just shy of being symphonic, was a labour of love of which he was very proud.

His ideal ensemble to perform it would probably be rather larger than the one MacAlindin has around him in this performance, but the conductor draws the fullest sound from his socially-distanced players, many of them – although by no means all – familiar faces from Scotland’s top-notch youth orchestras and the back desks of our professional bands. MacAlindin keeps a very precise beat at all times and this is a very crisp performance that underlines the inspiration of Mozart and earlier baroque music in the score.

That purpose of the composer is especially evident in the opening and closing movements, and the final bars of both here brought to mind the “old style” of Edvard Grieg’s almost contemporary Holberg Suite. The Waltz and Elegy in between, however, are prime Tchaikovsky, the tune of the former as fine as anything in his first ballet score, Swan Lake, from a few years earlier.

The Elegy is no less melodious and altogether more complex, and is particularly beautifully paced here. Special credit should go to the single double bass of Stirling’s Daniel Griffin, carrying the root of the movement through all the variations of key and dynamics around him.

That light and shade is also enhanced by the acoustic of the Macleod Hall, which is the orchestra’s home in Govan’s Pearce Institute. The showcase it is having in this series is a nice counterpart to the more lavish profile other Glasgow venues are enjoying through online Celtic Connections concerts.

The big noise of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture might have more in common with work at the John Elder (soon to be re-named Fairfield) shipyard that Sir William Pearce had taken to the peak of its international reputation in 1880, but the Serenade for Strings is a more fitting memorial to the pioneering businessman who would be dead at 55 before the end of the decade, and memorialised in the name of the community building at the start of the new century.

Watch the concert via Vimeo at glasgowbarons.com

Keith Bruce

Glasgow Barons Pandemonium

The Govan-based orchestra Glasgow Barons, founded and directed by Paul McAlindin, has announced an ambitious and eclectic digital season of seven concerts filmed in Glasgow venues and building into an archive available free to view via Vimeo.

The series begins on Thursday January 7, with a programme of songs of exile, set to an electronic score by Hamish MacLeod and filmed by him with sound engineering by Tim Cooper at Govan and Linthouse Parish Church. MacLeod is joined by Hannah Rarity, Midya Xan and Aref Ghorbani in exploring repertoire that ranges from Gaelic songs of the Highland Clearances to Kurmanji Kurdish and Farsi lyrics of life as a refugee in Scotland today.

MacLeod and Cooper are also behind the realisation of the Thursday January 28 concert, entitled Flux, for which composer Matthew Ward has worked with Shona MacKay and Nick Olsen from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland on a five-movement suite exploring the power and memory of water.

The MacLeod Hall of Govan’s Pearce Institute is the venue for performances of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings (January 21) and Thea Musgrave’s Night Windows (Wednesday January 13). On the latter the orchestra is joined by oboe soloist Amy Turner. Concerts of William Sweeney’s Sian Orainn, originally written for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and of Alasdair Nicolson’s Stramash, commissioned by the City of London Sinfonia, have been filmed at SWG3 on the other side of the Clyde, and are premiered on February 4 and 11 respectively.

The season concludes with a live recording of Steg G’s new album Live Todays on March 4, featuring new pieces by RCS graduates Aidan Teplitsky – entitled Almost Achilles, Always the Heel – and by Kevan O’Reilly – Scotland versus Scotland.

The films are part of the orchestra’s residency project with Glasgow Life and will be available from 7pm of the day of release  via glasgowbarons.com and remain online for a year.