Music review: Hebrides Ensemble and Psappha: 25 Years of New Music

The Hebrides Ensemble

The Hebrides Ensemble

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To mark 25 years in business, the Hebrides Ensemble shared a splendid programme with Manchester counterpart, Psappha, also celebrating its 25th birthday. Both are pioneers of new or nearly new music, thus a span of music from Schoenberg to Maxwell Davies, with living composers David Fennessy and David Horne.

Hebrides Ensemble and Psappha: 25 Years of Music ****

St Andrews-in-the-Square, Glasgow

It was an formal affair for Hebrides: no customary chat from artistic director William Conway; instead they simply got on with the music, aided by projected images on a big screen, and the idiosyncratic presence of a cimbalon (played by Tim Williams) alongside standard string sextet.

As such, Fennessy’s Panoptican was left to speak for itself, and did so with natural ease. The centrally placed cimbalon burst into life issuing elemental repetitions, its amplified insistence reverberating like an unstoppable life force, from which the strings drew inspiration.

It’s a piece that ensnares you, much in the obsessive way raw-edged minimalism does. But there is an abundance of originality and alluring charm that this bare-knuckle performance hungrily embraced.

Maxwell Davies’ The Last Island followed, a mercurial, sometime feverish string sextet, to which Williams’ fitful Orkney footage added moody visual reference. To some extent, though, it robbed our minds of the freedom to interpret the shard-like musical soundscapes.

David Horne’s unnerving arrangement of Max’s Farewell to Stromness was a beguiling take on a popular tune. Then to finish, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, in a gloriously flowing and effusive performance that soaked up the searching purple glow of the evening’s lighting scheme.

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