Music review: Glasgow Barons Orchestra: The Govan Stones, Govan Old Parish Church

As a precursor to this week’s appearance at the St Magnus Festival, The Glasgow Barons – an orchestra of freelance professionals established in Govan by conductor Paul MacAlindin to help revitalise the former Clydeside shipbuilding community – performed their Orkney programme in their home venue, Govan Old Parish Church.

The Govan Stones

Glasgow Barons Orchestra: The Govan Stones, Govan Old Parish Church ****

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It’s in this once magnificent church that the historic Govan Stones, dating from the 9th-11th centuries, are permanently on display. So here was the perfect location for the premiere of Alasdair Nicolson’s Govan Stones, a concerto for trumpet and strings, which takes its inspiration directly from the relics’ enigmatic symbols and illustrations.

From the opening trumpet flourishes, eerily defused by the church’s echoing acoustic, a hauntingly mystifying mood presented itself throughout the three movements. Each depict a specific feature of the stones: carved interwoven patterns translated by Nicolson into delicate sunbursts of accompanying string counterpoint; the more rhapsodic imagery of the central movement, a beguiling response to the central orb that caps the Sun Stone and its sinister radiating snakes; then the wilder hunting images of the final movement, in particular Nicolson’s jackass references to the quirky Cuddy Stone.

With soloist Tom Poulson placed above the strings in the pulpit, the preeminent trumpet line cut an exhilarating presence, powerfully articulated and neatly underscored by the tapestry of shifting, mostly ethereal string textures which MacAlindin shaped with alert discipline. If anything, the movements are almost too similar in character, which leads to a lack of surprises. But atmospherically the music is quite compelling. - KEN WALTON