Classical review: St Andrews Voices: Hagar in the Wilderness, St Andrews

IT’S only the festival’s second year, but the enterprising St Andrews Voices is already branching out.

St Andrews Voices. Picture: Contributed
St Andrews Voices. Picture: Contributed

Holy Trinity Church


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In an intensive long weekend celebrating the voice in its many musical incarnations – classical, folk, choral, musicals, among others – this year’s programme strode ambitiously into the world of opera, with the Scottish premiere of Hagar in the Wilderness by Stirling-based composer Sally Beamish, performed by Nova Music Opera in the atmospheric Holy Trinity Church.

Okay, it was brief, and used only modest singing and instrumental forces, but its powerful Old Testament story – of Abraham banishing his servant Hagar and her son Ishmael, who he has fathered, to the wilderness – and Beamish’s pared-down yet eloquent musical setting proved hugely compelling.

Kirsty Hopkins put everything she had into a strongly expressive performance in the title role, and Owen Gilhooly was appropriately grumpy as an implacable Abraham. Conductor George Vass drew vivid playing from his quintet of instrumentalists, highlighting telling inflections in Beamish’s persuasive score. The repetitions in the vocal lines soon became quite wearing, but there was no doubting Beamish’s sure dramatic pacing and striking storytelling.

It made a strong second half to the festival’s Friday-night concert, but things were far more workaday in an over-long first half.

A selection of songs with harp by Beamish, Britten and Schubert produced mixed results – witty in Britten folksongs, but inelegantly articulated in some ill-judged Schubert Lieder arrangements.

And the Nova Music players’ rather lacklustre account of Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp made heavy weather of music that should sparkle effortlessly.