THIS fruitful collaboration between the Scottish Ensemble and Robert Hollingworth’s vocal ensemble I Fagiolini juxtaposed an assortment of festive gems from the past with a treasure trove of music from some of the UK’s finest contemporary composers. Part One saw the singers demonstrate some agile vocal interplay in Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir, Byrd’s Miserere Mihi, Domine and a chorale from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. In the intimate atmosphere of the candlelit kirk, they romped through Cristoforo Caresana’s witty spider’s eye view of the nativity, La Tarantella, complete with shepherds, angels and the devil.
Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh ****
But it was the second half that saw both ensembles flex their musical muscles. They evoked bleak northern climes in Arvo Pärt’s flawless Kyrie from the Berliner Mass, Pēteris Vasks’ mesmeric Plainscapes II and Edmund Finnis’ Verbo Domini with its edgy dissonance.
Led by Jonathan Morton, the Scottish Ensemble beautifully captured the subtle nuances of James MacMillan’s For Sonny, with its haunting harmonic shifts under an insistent repeated motif.
The stand-out performance of the evening came from violist Jane Atkins in John Woolrich’s sensational Ulysses Awakes (after Monteverdi). Her gorgeous warm tones swooped and soared in semi-improvisatory free fall through the waves of iridescent strings.
Winter Chorale, Adrian Williams’ commission for I Fagiolini, was something of a mixed bag, starting with the Kyrie followed by a setting of Laurie Lee’s poem, Christmas Landscape. The singers took some time to settle into this work with its complex cross-rhythms. Once they did though, this modern take on the nativity was superb.