Classical concert review: The Hebrides Ensemble - St Andrews in the Square, Glasgow

THIS wasn’t the perfect venue for the Hebrides Ensemble’s intriguing snapshot of American music from the past 100 years. Indeed, much of the content of the opening half – Jennifer Higdon’s Smash, John Adams’ Road Movies and the earliest of the works, Charles Ives’ 1911 Piano Trio – floated above our heads, way up among the gilded plasterwork of this beautifully restored former church.

It was hardly the performers’ fault – they approached Higdon’s hectic musical sprint with steamy, breathless energy, and drew from the surreal aridity of the Ives a neat sense of self-belief and, to some extent, challenging absurdity. The echoing acoustics actually enhanced the uneasy intrusion at the end of the hymn tune Rock of Ages, allowing it to waft in like a cool, refreshing breeze.

The performance of Adams’ motorised minimalism was less effective, despite those golden moments where pianist Philip Moore and violinist Alexander Janiczek tuned into the bluesy essence of the music.

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What a transformation, though, in the second half, with a pairing of Steve Reich’s New York Counterpoint and George Crumb’s theatrical, atmospheric Voice of the Whale (Vox Balaenae). Clarinettist Yann Ghiro patched effortlessly into his own multitracked prerecording with rich rhythmic vitality. But the most fascinating performance came in Crumb’s Voice of the Whale, for which the players wore masks and conjured a weird, enchanting sonic landscape inspired by the whalesong. All that was missing was a David Attenborough voiceover.

Rating: ***

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