sound festival 2022 review: Maxwell Quartet and Alasdair Beatson

Alasdair Beatson piano
The Maxwell Quartet:
Colin Scobie First violin
George Smith Second violin
Elliott Perks Viola
Duncan Strachan cello

Queen’s Cross Church, Aberdeen
Sunday, 30th October 2022


George Benjamin - Shadowlines (Six canonic preludes for solo piano)
Joey Roukens - Visions at Sea
James MacMillan - 
We are Collective

Sunday’s early evening concert in Queen’s Cross Church was the final event in what has been a sensational soundfestival this year. It ended with one hell of a big bang, most definitely not a whimper! It was being recorded by the BBC for later broadcast.

All three pieces in the concert were right up to date contemporary works and all three were astoundingly brilliant. It was not just the pieces themselves, although they certainly were, it was the wonderfully dynamic performances they got from all of Sunday’s musicians. I cannot remember the last time I have seen such high spirited exuberant playing. All the performers put absolutely everything into their playing, fairly setting the music on fire.

The concert opened with Alasdair Beatson getting stuck right into George Benjamin’s ‘Shadowlines’. I am not going to use the word ‘playing’ because he did so much more than that. He put his whole body into the performance. ‘Shadowlines’ in six movements with titles like ‘Wild’ and ‘Tempestoso’ is technically a fearsomely challenging work. It was full, not just of crossed hands, but crossed arms. Beatson had to ride the keyboard like a cowboy in a rodeo rides a crazy bull. His hands had to fly from one end of the keyboard to the other with split second timing always landing square on the right notes. Many sections required really strong, even violent playing. What does that do to your fingers? There were moments of supreme delicacy too. Whatever Benjamin’s score asked for, Alasdair Beatson gave it to him, and then some. For us in the audience, the piece was a real helter skelter ride of scream-out-loud excitement. When Beatson finished, the audience were on fire, ready for the Maxwell Quartet who had chosen another marvellous piece for us. This was ‘Visions at Sea’ by the Dutch composer Joey Roukens. 

Roukens takes us on a sea journey, starting softly on a smooth calm sea. Special large wooden mutes gave the music its special glassy-smooth sound. The music then took flight with what was possibly a sea shanty? Each player had his own special voice in this music, like a busy crew on a ship. I watched cellist Duncan Strachan swaying with his cello at one point, suggesting the swaying of the ship as the waves became stronger. Like Alasdair Beatson, all four members of the quartet put their whole bodies into the performance as if they really were on board a ship, it was great to watch. The sea shanty melody came back and the two violins gave us real Hollywood Bowl singing strings more than once. What an attractively pictorial piece this was and what a great performance.

James MacMillan’s new piece ‘We are Collective’ was commissioned by Haddo Arts and sound along with Spitalfields and Cheltenham Music Festivals. Would it live up to what we had already heard? Yes, it sure did! As well as being wonderfully scenic as it took us on a city wide march with its semi-political slogan ringing out. At one point the strings suggested crowds of voices singing enthusiastically. We passed along through all sorts of musical territories. We could hear snatches of popular Scottish song, classical piano music joyously played by Alasdair Beatson still on top form, a suggestion of music hall tunes and more. MacMillan made us feel so happy to be marching along with him in this ebullient music. Best of all he projected a special sense of good fun and positivity. In these dark days when I can hardly bear to watch the news, what we need is more music like what the sound festival gave us on Sunday evening. 

comments powered by Disqus