Tag Archives: Paul MacAlindin

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

Pandemonium / Nicolson

The Galvanisers, SWG3, Glasgow

Pandemonium? Stramash? Sounds like the ingredients for a wild Glasgow night out in the No Mean City of times gone by. 

In this case, the Festival is Govan’s Pandemonium, the piece is Alasdair Nicolson’s Stramash, and together, in a spirited performance by the Glasgow Barons, they represent a more sophisticated Glasgow than that once synonymous with warring football hooligans and Gorbals razor gangs.

Stramash is the short, single entity in this latest Pandemonium digital release from Paul MacAlindin’s impressive series, a work written in 2006 by Nicolson (who currently runs Orkney’s St Magnus Festival) for the City of London Sinfonia. It has a certain tartan gallus-ness that gets the feet tapping.

Not immediately, though. A violent frenzy of pizzicato and wild cello/bass ostinati provide a chaotic scene-setter that quickly morphs into the first of several hurtling reels, venomous and virtuosic. MacAlindin’s string band negotiates the cut and thrust with biting energy and toughness. Alternating waves of action and respite define the narrative, the latter deconstructive in character and rarely without ominous overtones – chilled harmonics over a false, fidgety calm. 

It’s not an easy piece to bring off, yet the Barons do so convincingly, up to a point. For just as blistering heat motivates so much of this performance, with dazzling solos and gritty interaction, a sense of fatigue cools the closing moments, initially in the rhythmically-charged unisons that signal the route to a fragmentary ending, less taut than it ought to be.

That aside, here is yet another uncompromising achievement for this ambitious Govan initiative.
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

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