Classical review: Scottish Ensemble, Glasgow

There’s a lavish traditional banquet in Norway that consists of about 20 courses, the point of which is to keep returning to a meat dish amid the various excursions into spicier or sweeter diversions.

Scottish Ensemble

Scottish Ensemble: Nordic Nights - Wellington Church, Glasgow

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The first half of last night’s seasonal Nordic Nights concert by the all-string Scottish Ensemble reminded me of that experience. The backbone was Grieg’s Holberg Suite, but rather than play its movements as an entity, Jonathan Morton and his ensemble interspersed them with two very different Nordic works, selected movements from Rautavaara’s pungent The Fiddlers, and a brand new work by Danish composer Christian Winther Christensen.

The effect was as wholesome and satisfying as any perfectly-balanced meal. Wrapped around the rustic seasoning and earthy dissonances of the Rautavaara, and the crystalline delicacy and whispered, elemental sound world of the Christensen, the Holberg – played with lustrous warmth – was a recurring, homely comfort.

That entire sequence was prefaced by Sibelius’s Andante festivo, presented simply and hymn-like; while the second half was given over to Morton’s arrangement of Grieg’s String Quartet No 1, the effect of which was to amplify the expressive intensity of the original, both softening and sharpening its emotional impact. Then a truly seasonal encore: a string version of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, with office staff on percussion, and the trumpet’s neighing horse expertly transferred to the viola. No joke!