Classical review: The Hebrides Ensemble, Kirkwall

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THE Hebrides Ensemble played two concerts on Wednesday, as part of this year’s St Magnus Festival. First, at lunchtime, came the annual Orkney composers’ course concert, one of the most satisfying aspects of which was the sheer diversity and variety of creative thinking displayed by the eight emerging composers whose music was performed.

The Hebrides Ensemble

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

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A wide range of skills was on show too. Some pieces, for example Emma Wilde’s Eris, were notable for their structure; others, such as Ri Marannan by Douglas Buchanan, for their ability to get under the skin of their core material; and quite a few were unusual for homing in on the double bass as the most prominent instrument in Hebrides Ensemble’s five-player line-up. All eight composers had imaginative sources of inspiration and not one piece was a dud.

It was hardly surprising that, after performing eight world premieres earlier in the day, the Hebrides initially sounded a little jaded for their own demanding programme in the evening, opening with Penderecki’s powerful Clarinet Quartet and an engaging arrangement for viola and cello of Lutoslawski’s Bucolics, originally scored for piano. Any residual cobwebs, however, were blown away by Bartok’s Contrasts for violin, clarinet and piano with phenomenal playing from Yann Ghiro in the clarinet part specially written for Benny Goodman.

Brahms’ substantial G minor Piano Quartet was fired with authority and peaked in a rousing finale, albeit marred by disconcerting creaks from the temporary staging.

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