Review: Scottish Ensemble - Oran Mor, Glasgow

IF ANYTHING connects the emerging classical music strains of the Baltic countries, it is perhaps an underlying primevalism rooted in ancient runic chants and rhythms.

In Baltic Renaissance – a programme touring Scotland this week – the Scottish Ensemble presented a cross-section of such works, interspersed with early English music by Byrd and Purcell, delivered seamlessly and rather like an uninterrupted drive-time medley on Classic FM.

These included pieces by Lithuanian Bronius Kutaviçius, Latvian Peteris Vasks and the Estonians Erkki-Sven Tüür and Arvo Pärt, all of whom seem most at home in luminescent minimalism, combined with a lyricism that is hauntingly evocative.

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Such characteristics result in instant captivation, evoking the same inner warmth as a glass of mulled wine, but occasionally give way to prolixity.

The most substantial work – Vasks’ free-thinking concerto for violin and strings Distant Light – was a case in point. Veering frequently into surreal territory, it is fresh and invigorating, from the Schnittke-esque final cadenza to a central melody of heart-melting intensity.

Jonathan Morton, the Ensemble’s director, spun out the solo line with a foot-stamping sense of belief in its folksy quirks and lyrical sweetness. It just goes on a bit.

No mistaking the succinct rock influences in Tüür’s energised Action and Illusion, or the mystical stillness (despite a tense start) of the Pärt. But the obsessive scratching of Kutaviçius’s The Gates of Jerusalem held limited fascination, unlike the palate-cleansing refinement of the Purcell and Byrd.