AT THE core of the St Magnus Festival, founded by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, is its reputation for commissioning new work and championing local projects. The world premiere of The Story of Magnus Erlendsson, written by Gemma McGregor to a libretto by Ron Ferguson, ticks both boxes.
St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall ***
Edinburgh Quartet ****
Celebrating the 900th anniversary of the death of the Norwegian saint, the two-act opera’s premiere performance featured local soloists, the St Magnus Cathedral Choir and a boys chorus from Kirkwall Grammar School. Alasdair Nicolson conducted musicians from the Assembly Project whilst the cathedral’s organ and church bells added authenticity. McGregor used these forces well in the space, having the boys chorus promenade around the cathedral’s dramatically-lit pink-coloured columns, and placing the choir behind the soloists.
Colourful costumes helped bring these historical figures to life, especially Magnus; a pacifist and Christian who tells his wife of his faith and vow of chastity on their wedding night and is later murdered by his cousin.
A personal portrait of Maxwell Davies is threaded through Geoff Palmer’s new work Sonata, Fugue, Chorale Quartet No.6, which pays homage to both the late composer and Scotland’s northern landscapes. In stunning form, the Edinburgh Quartet revelled in the dissonant harmonics of the sonata and grounding chords of the chorale in a dazzling account. But it was the unusual five-beat fugue, with its swooping and diving glissandi and offbeat pizzicato, that most neatly captured Max’s puckish personality and spoke with Palmer’s distinctive voice.