Music review: The Scottish Ensemble with Karen Cargill

Revered Scottish mezzo Karen Cargill
Revered Scottish mezzo Karen Cargill
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As stand-in replacements go, revered Scottish mezzo Karen Cargill must be right up there. Covering for an indisposed Christine Rice, Cargill was making her debut with the Scottish Ensemble in an eclectic, Greek myth-inspired concert – and her mesmerising, microscopically inflected singing made a fitting counterpoint to the string group’s own fresh, detailed, impeccably articulated playing under guest leader Matthew Truscott.

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh ****

Cargill became appropriately deranged in a passionate, volatile account of Haydn’s solo cantata Arianna a Naxos, but she dared to be considered and restrained in its more thoughtful opening. She was just as supple and responsive in an exquisite account of Dido’s aria from Berlioz’s The Trojans, although in its counterpoint from two centuries earlier, Dido’s famous lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, the sheer richness and power of her voice made a slightly uncomfortable contrast with the sleek austerity of the string playing under Baroque expert Truscott.

Indeed, there was a nicely hard-edged elegance to the Ensemble’s playing that continued throughout their bracingly cool account of Stravinsky’s neo-classical Apollo, slightly bewilderingly sliced down the middle to both begin and end the evening. And despite a persistently troublesome iPad forcing a couple of hasty relocations for the second violins, it was a wonderfully shapely performance that both made the most of Stravinsky’s colourful scoring. The concert’s highlights, however, were also its briefest offerings: a Fantasia full of labyrinthine, restless harmonies by Purcell, and an encore of his similarly ear-surprising Curtain tune from Timon of Athens, both exquisitely turned and gloriously entertaining