Tag Archives: William Sweeney

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