Classical review: The Music Of Craig Armstrong, Glasgow

Craig Armstrong's film music is perhaps the best know of his work. Picture: Simon Murphy

Craig Armstrong's film music is perhaps the best know of his work. Picture: Simon Murphy

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CRAIG Armstrong has worked with so many musicians across so many disciplines in the last 30 years that it was a distinct possibility everyone in the auditorium might have had some personal connection to this unassuming composer, whose work is internationally renowned but who continues to base himself in his native Glasgow.

The Music Of Craig Armstrong - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

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This hometown celebration of his film music and selected material from his own albums, performed with the Orchestra of Scottish Opera plus handpicked band and vocalists, kicked off with one of his best-known pieces, O Verona, from Romeo + Juliet, his first collaboration with the director Baz Luhrmann. This apocalyptic overture is better known to viewers of Saturday evening light entertainment television as the Carmina Burana-esque music which heralds the arrival of The X Factor judges, but there was no such ego trip here.

Instead, Armstrong calmly introduced his works and guests with a soothing understatement which often rippled through the music. Arguably, his success as a film composer is that he creates subtle background listening rather than audacious showpieces. As such, the projected clips and montages from the relevant films enhanced what could otherwise have been an overly introverted presentation.

Clio Gould and Alison Lawrance, respectively his violinist and cellist of choice, graced key soundtrack selections, Gould’s spine-tingling solo defining The Great Gatsby finale and Lawrance helming a delicate requiem from Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center.

Armstrong considers himself a composer and arranger rather than a songwriter and while it’s true that his original vocal melodies could hardly compete with the melodramatic arrangements of One Day I’ll Fly Away and Nature Boy from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack, his classy guest crooners, including 80s Scotpop peers Jerry Burns and James Grant, breathed expressive life into some tasteful torch songs.

However, in the fusion spirit of Celtic Connections, the most arresting parts of the programme were the points where Armstrong’s pop and classical instincts rubbed up against each other. Finding Beauty was not the most comfortable meeting of electric and acoustic instrumentation but a couple of his other original instrumentals, Sing and Lontano, nodded to his work with trip-hop group Massive Attack, the latter blending organic and synthesized strings with a dubby beat.

The short solo piano pieces in the encore showcased another string to Armstrong’s adaptable bow – even so, this generous bill only touched on a fraction of his oeuvre.

Seen on 27.01.15

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