Classical review: Scottish Ensemble: Three Pärts Bach, Glasgow

Scottish Ensemble
Scottish Ensemble
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THE Scottish Ensemble have always stamped their own personality on the way they present their concerts – standing to perform, exuding a friendly camaraderie, and rarely resorting to gimmickry.

Scottish Ensemble: Three Pärts Bach | Rating: **** | Wellington Church, Glasgow

THE Scottish Ensemble have always stamped their own personality on the way they present their concerts – standing to perform, exuding a friendly camaraderie, and rarely resorting to gimmickry.

That distinctiveness is even more marked in their current Advent touring programme – a warm-hearted pre-Christmas cocktail that is part-Bach, part-Pärt, with a solitary drop of the lesser known Russian composer Gubaidulina – which found a perfect setting on Wednesday in Glasgow’s neo-classical Wellington Church.

Billed as a concert by candlelight, there were additional sources of illumination: a huge, white, up-lit, helium-filled balloon, hovering over the players like an enigmatic question mark; the soft glow from the electronic tablets replacing the traditional printed music; and the radiance of the music itself, a sequence of stylistic juxtapositions presented as musical “sets”.

So the hypnotic tolling of Pärt’s Fratres was a solemn preparation for the exuberant energy of Bach’s Violin Concerto in A minor; Bach’s Chorale Prelude “Vor deinen Thron”, and Sofia Gubaidulina’s elusive Meditation on the same chorale, were a sublime coupling; Bach’s Contrapunctus XIX was a meaty sandwich filler between Pärt’s catchy Collage über Bach and the ethereal Summa.

Guest leader/director Matthew Truscott’s cool charisma and super-clean playing elicited extraordinary warmth from the ensemble, shining like a lustrous beacon as soloist in Bach’s A minor concerto and in the Concerto for Two Violins, also featuring violinist Colin Scobie. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No 3 brought a convivial evening to a wholesome end.

Well, almost. The Ensemble rarely leave without giving us an encore. More Bach.