Music review: Edinburgh Contemporary Music Ensemble, Reid Concert Hall, Edinburgh

Thea Musgrave
Thea Musgrave
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Since the demise of ECAT, contemporary music hasn’t enjoyed the same profile in Edinburgh. So kudos to ECME for delivering a programme to excite the ear and stretch the mind in their 15th anniversary showcase with new conductor Gordon Bragg. Claire McCue’s consummate double trombone concerto, In Pursuit, with the phenomenal soloists Davur Juul Magnusen and Simon Johnson was a dazzling tour de force.

Edinburgh Contemporary Music Ensemble, Reid Concert Hall, Edinburgh ****  

Positioned at opposite ends of the stage, the trombones echoed and chased each other, their stereo sound converging, diverging and whooshing over a meaty orchestral texture.  

A strong filmic narrative underpinned Harry Whalley’s Strange Cathedrals, five beautifully honed snapshots of momentous events in the earth’s timeline. There was a homespun Copeland quality in Atmosphere while the militaristic snap of the brass in Heavy Bombardment channelled the might of Shostakovich.

Sound itself and the process of how we hear it formed the basis of Julian Lonchamp’s Helicotrema. The orchestra beautifully captured this intoxicating soundworld with its clever mix of harmonics and open strings spinning a shape-shifting aura around pulsating brass. In Tom David Wilson’s Concertante oboe, soloist Fraser Kelman deftly conjured a spectrum of bright tones, setting the instrument aglow against the ghostly shimmering strings.

Written in 1988, Thea Musgrave’s strident evocation of the power of nature in The Seasons has lost none of its gloss or relevance with the orchestra and Bragg unleashing hellfire and damnation in this riveting performance. Susan Nickalls