I doubt, in fact, this evening of three halves had any single premise other than to entertain a broad church of musical tastes.
It opened with Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto doing one of his surreal routines with electric violin, iPad and a battery of foot pedals that operated a multitrack sequencer, allowing him to live record improvised riffs and instantly play them back in superimposed layers.
Apart from the final two numbers – a big noise treatment of a Finnish folk tune and a catchy work written by one of Kuusisto’s Finnish compatriots – the veracity of his instant creations was touch and go. What made it all sustainable was Kuusisto’s dry, self-deprecating comedy act that went with it. He should try alternative stand-up as a sideline.
Down to serious business with the a cappella Hilliard Ensemble, and Il Cor Tristo, a progressively melodramatic sequence devised by composer Roger Marsh that combined his own settings of Dante with madrigals (settings of Plutarch) by the 16th century Italian composer Bernardo Pisano.
The immediacy of the Old Fruitmarket acoustic was a double-edged sword, evoking clarity of diction on the one hand, but exposing the ensemble’s tonal fragility on the other.
All change again for the riotous ebullience of Rumanian ethno-band Taraf de Haïdouks, whose chaotic supersonic heterophony ignited a blazing fire. Whoever said the Saturday Variety Show was dead?