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3 - 26 November 2006

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The Herald
14 November 2006

sound Festival, various venues, Aberdeen

Aberdeen's Cowdray Hall hosted the first of two concerts by the Edinburgh Quartet on Thursday, in residence as guests of Aberdeen University Music and the sound Festival.

Three quartets by contemporary Scottish composers were followed by a vintage performance of Beethoven's Quartet in E minor. Its orthodox forms, clothed in the composer's brilliant original touches, helped expose the contrasting structural approaches of the Scottish composers.

George Mackay Brown's poem A Reel of Seven Fishermen inspired Kenneth
Dempster's String Quartet No 4, The Cold Dancer. Its surging rhythms and contrasting warm and cold harmonies reflected the capriciousness of the Scottish climate.

Judith Weir's excellent Quartet was more formally structured. The distinctive rhythmic jabs from the cello, imaginatively varied for each movement, provided an anchor for the music.

Edward Harper's Three Folk Settings presented nicely worked developments of well-known tunes, merely hinting at their identity before exposing them fully in various ingenious musical wrappings.

On Saturday, in the Deeside Theatre, Aboyne, the Edinburgh Quartet were guests of Strathdee Music Club. Composer James Clapperton introduced his quartet as The Great Divorce, named after a treatise by CS Lewis on the realm of the dead. This extraordinary quartet used muted strings throughout, and its main idea was to have the instruments sound independent of one another. The result was neither chaotic nor even very dissonant, with the two violins bouncing eerily off one another, creating a truly other-worldly atmosphere. There followed a stunning account of Ravel's String Quartet, which, with its wealth of brilliant effects, upstaged the modern work. The Beethoven Quartet was played again to finish, and it was better than on Thursday.

Back to Woodend Barn on Sunday for the Sally Beamish Fiftieth Birthday Tribute Concert with the Da Vinci Piano Trio, featuring Beamish's partner, Robert Irvine, on cello. Three first-rate works by Beamish were interspersed with music by Debussy, representing solos, duos and trios by both composers.

Piobaireachd was a powerfully structured translation of the melody and grace notes of the solo bagpipe for piano trio, while Gala Water for solo cello recalled the range and muscularity of the Bach solo cello suites.

Best of all were the two magnificent movements from the Cello Sonata. Gentle chiming piano chords supported a gorgeous unbridled cello part, which overflowed with warmth. It was a superb performance crowned by a glowing account of a recently restored trio by the 18-year-old Debussy: a cracking work.


Copyright Alan Cooper - published in The Herald, Glasgow (Newsquest Media Group)



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