Concert review: Music for a Summer Evening, Kirkwall

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IF THE concert’s title brings to mind something laid-back and easy-going, George Crumb’s piece of that name unequivocally makes the case for thinking again.

Music for a Summer Evening

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

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Nestled inside the four towering central pillars of St Magnus Cathedral, the same number of performers – two pianists and two percussionists – made a striking visual image in a fusion of ancient and modern. It was an entirely fitting setting for a concert of just this one piece that was completely absorbing in its impact.

Written in 1974, Music for a Summer Evening (Makrokosmos III) is as fresh today as when first composed. Giving a beautifully precise yet poetic realisation of an intensely complex score were pianists Elizabeth Burley and Philip Moore, playing what Crumb describes as amplified pianos which involved all sort of actions other than playing the keyboards. Delicate nocturnal flutterings in the first movement, The Awakening, were exchanged with a gentle percussion soundworld created by Oliver Cox and Owen Gunnell. Called beyond the usual realms of percussionists to, for instance, blow slide whistles onto the pianos’ strings, they conjured up an ethereal intimacy as part of the many and varied colours of Crumb’s compositional palette.

At times almost trance-like in its hypnotic power, Music for a Summer Evening was perfect for a festival context such as St Magnus, with the rare luxury of a single item programme giving the audience headspace for reflection.