Classical review: Mr McFall’s Chamber: Viva Tango! Greyfriars kirk, Edinburgh

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GREYFRIARS Kirk is no stranger to auspicious occasions, but as violinist Robert McFall – co-founder of alt-classical ensemble Mr McFall’s Chamber – observed, never before in its 400-year history had it hosted a tango evening.

Building on McFall and his colleagues’ longstanding penchant for Argentina’s national dance music – particularly the genre-expanding compositions of Astor Piazzola – they’ve also been working periodically with Edinburgh-based Chilean vocalist Valentina Montoya Martinez since the 1990s, focusing in recent years on her growing body of original songs, variously inspired by her experience of exile and her mother’s final illness.

McFall’s line-up of string quartet plus piano and percussion was joined by two top tango instrumentalists, Cyril Garac on violin and Victor Villena on bandoneón, for an expertly varied programme mainly comprising Piazzola excerpts – from his 1968 “tango operita”, Maria de Buenos Aires – interspersed with Martinez’s stirringly expressive material.

Appealing as the incongruity between Presbyterianism and smouldering Latin passion seemed, however, the project’s ambition and the music’s quality were sorely let down by the surroundings. In the fiery, full-ensemble numbers, pretty much all the finer points were fuzzily indistinct, giving only a sketchy impression of what was discernibly a dynamic, highly polished, labour-of-love performance.

Rating: ***