Perth Festival / The Ayoub Sisters
Perth Concert Hall
The corpses of young conservatoire-trained musicians that have been chewed up and spat out by the “classical crossover” genre litter the by-ways of the music marketplace. The Ayoub Sisters, you’d wager, are made of sterner stuff.
Of Egyptian heritage and Glasgow born and raised, they launched their second album, Arabesque, in Cairo and this Perth Festival date was part of its international promotional tour. The festival had tweaked the package, however, with the addition of support act The Lark Piano Trio, whose 20th century chamber music provided an impressively ear-exercising opening to the evening.
Post-graduate students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, pianist Anna Michels, violinist Emma Baird and cellist Helena La Grand championed composer Rebecca Clarke with their performance of her 1921 Piano Trio, which first appeared under her post-World War One nom-de-guerre “Anthony Trent”.
In a beautifully blended and balanced performance, and particularly in the meditative central movement, it was not hard to hear pre-echoes of better-known American male composers as yet unborn when the work was written.
The Ayoub Sisters opened their hour’s music with Misirlou, the Middle-Eastern folk tune made famous by surf-rock guitarist Dick Dale and the movie Pulp Fiction, which they played five years ago at Glasgow’s Proms in the Park.
Here, however, it introduced a programme that delved much more deeply into the siblings’ musical heritage, appropriating religious chants from different cultures as well as other folk music in their clever arrangements for violin and cello, amplified and looped through the sort of portable sampling technology familiar to fans of K T Tunstall and Ed Sheeran.
The pair have the possibilities of this kit at their fingertips and elegantly-shod toes, and the live layering of sound was very impressive, although never at the expense of overshadowing their genuine playing abilities. A backing track provided the Indian percussion for an excursion into the world of Bollywood soundtrack, but most of the execution was live and very slick indeed.
Their programme was also cleverly constructed to mix the less familiar music with more recognisable fare, including a terrific take on McCartney’s Blackbird and a more knockabout tilt at Boney M’s Rasputin as well as Mozart’s Rondo Alla Turca. Taking turns to introduce the music, Laura (violin) and Sarah (cello) also have good stories and a congenial style to their presentation.
Scotland had its share of the spotlight too, from a vaguely Phil’n’Ally folk fiddle feature early in the set to an encore that saw Sarah move to the piano for the freshest take on some of the nation’s most threadbare favourites (including Flower of Scotland, Auld Lang Syne and Loch Lomond) that any in the audience will have heard in a while.