Anyone hoping for an intimate soiree with the harmonious partnership of Shetland fiddler Chris Stout and Dundonian harpist Catriona McKay was to be thwarted at this typically gregarious, collaborative concert for Celtic Connections where the duo’s natural chemistry was complemented by the elegantly questing Scottish Ensemble and guest musicians from home and away.
Chris Stout, Catriona McKay & King Creosote, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****
From the outset, a beautiful synergy was struck between Stout’s mellifluous, lyrical tunes, McKay’s crystal cadences and the elegant expression of the Ensemble, who Stout astutely characterised as bringing classical finesse while playing like a band.
There was some beautiful crossplay on Stout’s The Stealthy Schooner, which was written in a moment of contemplative solitude and, like the beer glass after which it is named, was neither too big nor too small, but just right.
The string players were soon supplemented by the pops, claps and slaps of Brazilian body percussionist Marcelo Pretto, excited about his first experience of snow. There was great character and a degree of novelty about his audio-visual display, all the more engaging for being backed by the sharp urgency of the Ensemble strings.
Later in the set, Pretto followed soulful singing with a comical but virtuosic display of musical multi-tasking – one suspects patting his head and rubbing his belly is mere child’s play to this man – while his throat singing and mouth music were a feature of a Middle Eastern-inspired raga.
Next up was “his Highness” King Creosote in a Fair Isle bunnet which “covers many sins”. His voice, however, sounded heavenly against a backdrop of austere acoustic Celtic blues buoyed up by the noble swell of the Ensemble.
The second half ushered in cosier climes as McKay and Stout formed an easy trio with Boys of the Lough accordionist Máirtin O’Connorg. With the assembly complete, Pretto joined King Creosote in an entertaining cross-cultural rendition of the children’s play song Bluebell Cockleshell 123 and, as proceedings moved fluently through an ever more dexterous mix of traditions, the Scottish Ensemble transformed into a massed fiddle orchestra for an exhilarating closing flourish, with Stout practically levitating out front, before following up with an utterly ravishing encore rendition of Brazilian composer Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasilieras No.4.