Celtic Connections 2015

Monday 19 January 2015
Strathclyde Suite, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

The Herald * * * *
The Skinny * * * *

The Herald, Keith Bruce


AN education is rarely as much fun as this, and congratulations to Robert McFall for realising that the Creative Scotland-supported Distil project, which gives traditional music composers the resources of professional classical players to explore their ideas, needed its own showcase at Celtic Connections. Several more cheers for the fact that the bulk of the music played was written by women.

Exceptions were Hamish Napier's Lament for John McGann, pianist Andrew Dunlop's Hooley in Blue, a multi-voiced excursion for Distil, indicative of exactly how broadly the compositional style of the work had developed, and a timely revisiting of part of the McFalls's own Martyn Bennett project and their lovely arrangement of Peewits, with first violin Rosenna East reprising her Scots version of Vaughan Williams's popular Lark.

In the case of harpist Corrina Hewat, that development was audible in the work of a single composer, whose three works included the Penguin Cafe-esque Making the Connection, which had featured Bennett when it was played as one of Celtic's inaugural New Voices commissions in 1998, and the brand new Breathing in Quoyloo, a much more distinctive and confident work, again with a star role for East. Her octet,The Black Isle, from the McFall's Four Corners programme sat nicely between the two.

Gillian Fleetwood's journey was from the relative simplicity of Craft Part 2 to Hospital, premiered here, and interesting for its emulating of contemporary hi-tech medical equipment in its score, but even more so for its inventive use of the full sonic palette of the strings, and a lovely waltz section. The showstoppers of the evening came from singer and fiddler Kate Young, whose own distinctive songs were followed by her footstomping mastery of Bulgarian folk singing.

The Skinny, Louisa Brown


McFall’s dissolve all pomp from your classic chamber concert: easy stage chat, a giggling audience and a decisive lack of anything vaguely black tie. It’s Monday night and the dim lights and simple staging ease the imminent stress of the weekly rat race. With a lounge-like ambience we are selfishly grateful for the half full audience, allowing a more intimate atmosphere.

Showcasing composers predominantly from the Scottish traditional music scene, tonight is all about recent and premiering work. Corrina Hewat’s Making the Connection sticks close to her roots, opening the show with a stainless harp solo and prevalent Celtic ornamentation. Play by Gillian Fleetwood offers a hilarious contemporary rendition on being a child, leaving the audience baffled about which point to clap, breathe, laugh or even leave. In contrast, Hamish Napier’s Lament for John McGann drags heavy sentiment from the wooden bones of the ensemble and shows off his ingenuity for harmony.

Composer and fiddle-singer Kate Young ends up deservedly as the main feature, and you can see McFall’s are addicted to the masochism her pieces subject them to. She challenges them as her extra limbs, punching out tight rhythmic chops clashing against dense Eastern European-influenced melodies to match the infinite range of Kate’s Bulgarian-folk-trained voice, even replicating loop and octave pedal effects between vocals and violin, all whilst reading the bloody sheet music. It’s an intense experience, and Borthwick proves an obvious hit.

Intonation blips nag some pieces while others could benefit from better mediation between classical and trad styles, but it is the fearless experimentation and modest approach that define both the musicians and the composers tonight.

A fiennes.org site


Design by fogbank.co.uk