Celtic Connections review: KM Hindustani Ensemble/Lewis Psalm Singers

The KM Hindustani Ensemble made the spiritual accessible in the superb surroundings of Kelvingrove. Picture: Donald MacLeod

The KM Hindustani Ensemble made the spiritual accessible in the superb surroundings of Kelvingrove. Picture: Donald MacLeod

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There’s a very literal amazing grace to the sound of Gaelic psalm singing, almost the only form of music permitted within the Free Presbyterian churches of the Western Isles – being in itself primarily a mode of worship rather than creative expression.

KM Hindustani Ensemble/Lewis Psalm Singers - Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow

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Though the latter does apply, as was thrillingly apparent here in the Lewis Psalm Singers’ interwoven responses to their precentor’s line-by-line lead, all following their own, individually ornamented trajectory through the psalms’ melodic and metric framework, as the spirit moved each voice.

“Free heterophony” is the term for this collective but non-choral singing, whose soaring, spine-tingling alchemy of flinty Presbyterian starkness and radiant rapture was amplified to sublime advantage by Kelvingrove’s lofty acoustics; sheer musical magic would be this layperson’s summation.

The concert’s second half featured students and staff – 18 singers and three instrumentalists – from the KM Music Conservatory in Chennai, founded by Slumdog Millionaire composer AR Rahman to encourage Indian/Western musical interchange.

Further connections here were the broad similarities between the Lewis and Chennai groups’ styles of singing and adorning melodies, as well as both traditions’ spiritual bedrock. As with much of the Indian music showcased at this year’s festival, the Hindustani Ensemble’s selection of raags, regional folk songs and devotional material vibrantly confounded preconceptions regarding such sounds’ inaccessibility to the Western ear, while the show’s collaborative finale gloriously exemplified the words of Psalm 133, which the Gaels had sung earlier: “Behold! How good it is for brethren to dwell in unity together.”

Seen on 01.02.14

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