Classical review: Scottish Ensemble: Homecoming Concert, Glasgow

Billed as the Scottish Ensemble’s Homecoming Tour – the svelte string orchestra is just back from an 11-city tour of the United States – last night’s concert also slotted neatly into the week-long Britten 100 series, the result of a rare co-ordinated planning exercise by Scotland’s main orchestral ensembles.

City Halls


True, there was only one Britten work in this particular programme – the magnificently concise theatricality of his 1975 cantata Phaedra, with soprano Jane Irwin as soloist.

But in so many ways it was thoroughly refreshing to experience a Baroque cocktail of Handel, Purcell and the unmistakably eccentric sound world of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber before the concert’s Britten climax, especially as so many aspects of these earlier pieces find there way into Britten’s crystal clear music, with all its super-sensitive imagery, melting emotion and supreme individuality.

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Despite suffering from a throat problem, which had earlier affected her usual pristine intonation in Purcell’s Dido’s Lament, Hark! The echoing air and Handel’s Ah! Mio caro, Irwin magically regained her vocal strength to deliver every aspect of Phaedra with thrilling conviction and dramatic potency.

It was also the final triumph for the ensemble; the journey’s end to a preamble that opened stylishly with Handel’s mildly eccentric Concerto Grosso, Op 6 No 7, which rose euphorically to the convincingly lunatic musical warmongering of Biber’s Battalia, and which immediately prefaced the Britten with the soft, mellifluous sighs of Purcell’s Chacony and Fantasia Upon One Note.