It was a typically enterprising, wide-ranging, provocative programme from the Hebrides Ensemble, conveyed in wonderfully fresh, vivid performances. There was a sizeable audience to experience the trio’s craft, in one stop on a three-concert tour taking in lesser-visited venues across Scotland, and even streamed live online (watch it again via the Hebrides Ensemble website). Which makes it all the more bewildering that future Hebrides events like this could be in jeopardy, following Creative Scotland’s apparent decision to withdraw regular funding of the ensemble.
Perth Concert Hall ****
Appropriately enough, however – though entirely coincidentally – their eastern Europe-inspired programme revolved around the dumka, a rather melancholy, thoughtful lament. Janáček’s Brahmsian early Dumka got a passionate, full-throated performance from violinist Zoë Beyers and pianist Huw Watkins, one of expert pacing and remarkably sustained intensity – following a pungent, if strangely brief, selection from Bartók’s Mikrokosmos from Watkins to open the concert, so forthright and colourful that you’d never guess these were educational pieces.
Dvořák’s Dumky Trio formed the concert’s main focus, however, for which Beyers and Watkins were joined by Hebrides co-founder William Conway on cello for a spirited, gutsy account, one that was unafraid to play up the work’s heart-on-its-sleeve emotion while still delivering impeccable detail and nuance. The eight brief movements of Nigel Osborne’s The Piano Tuner, taken from his opera of the same name, were fresh and finely crafted, each given its own vivid character, although the lack of even a brief programme note made the unfamiliar piece rather more opaque than it needed to be.