Music review: sound festival, various venues, Aberdeen

David Kettle, The Scotsman
Published: 18:56 Tuesday 14 November 2017  

Read this review in full at The Scotsman

"A lunchtime recital, two evening concerts and no less than seven operas (okay, some of them just a few minutes long): Aberdeen’s sound festival of contemporary music packed plenty into its final day – and also neatly brought together two of its big 2017 themes.

The first was the ‘endangered’ bassoon, perhaps overlooked as a solo instrument, but in no danger of slipping into the background in the breathtaking solo recital from Pascal Gallois (*****). His traversal of Berio’s Sequenza XII, written in 1995 for him, was a masterclass in control and fantasy, his bassoon wailing gently as it slid between notes, interrupted by sudden snatches of volatile embellishment.

Opera was the second festival theme, and among pop-up operas in unusual locations was Lewis Murphy’s First Date (****), barely five minutes long, but startling lunchtime drinkers in Aberdeen’s Illicit Still and capturing the hesitancy and poignancy of a first encounter, sung with sensitivity and restraint by Kenneth Reid and Ross Cumming.

At the other end of the spectrum was the anarchic, raucous, patience-testing Mozart vs Machine (***) by Dominic Robertson. Nominally about electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott having some of his music stolen by a time-travelling Mozart, it brought in video, ping-pong balls, space hoppers, cut-up Mozart arias and even a fake, auditorium-clearing fire alarm to occasionally entertaining but mostly bewildering effect. It was a slick, confident production from Mahogany Opera, nonetheless, with brilliant performances – best of all, soprano Rebecca Bottone as a garish Mozart. 

Bringing the festival to an altogether calmer, more reflective conclusion, festival chair (and Aberdeen University professor) Pete Stollery had turned instrument maker to construct a set of fragile glass tubes, drips of water falling on them from water-drenched dishcloths, all manipulated by percussionist Maxime Erchardour. The result – for Austrian composer Peter Ablinger’s Weiss/Weisslich 31e (*****) – was a gently glistening, ever-changing soundscape, and an exquisitely meditative ending to the festival’s eclectic final offerings."