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International Festival: Reviews

Collegium Vocale Gent

Collegium Vocale Gent

Greyfriars Kirk

Michael Tumelty

A REAL gem was uncovered in the undemonstrative but quietly spectacular performance in Greyfriars Kirk on Tuesday night of the Tears of St Peter (Lagrime di San Pietro) by the late 16th-century Flemish composer, Orlande de Lassus. Be honest. Who knows this piece? I knew Lassus' name from university in the early seventies, but couldn't have sung one of his tunes if you had offered me a bottle of malt.

The Tears of St Peter is a remarkable piece, a series of 20 short madrigals based on the agonising of St Peter, now an old man, after his triple betrayal of Christ, and before his own crucifixion. So there is a strong narrative underlying the piece: we know where it comes from and where it's going. The number of pieces rises to the symbolist number of 21 with the addition of a Latin hymn to close the sequence.

A strong analytical programme note unveiled the enthralling intellectual processes in the construction of the work, painting a portrait of a composer setting himself a fierce series of parameters and a restrictive set of limitations. But when conductor/director Philippe Herreweghe and his seven magical singers (with absolutely no instrumental presence) took the stage, all the cerebral background stuff, which is very good, melted away.

This was exquisite music, deeply moving, easily followed, wonderfully intimate, immaculately sung, impeccably presented and underpinned by that narrative, with some gorgeous harmonic shifts and more pace, dynamic variety and flexible momentum than might have been inferred from the programme note. It was an absolutely beautiful, intimate performance, and another notch in the Greyfriars festival bow.

Alban Gerhardt and Steven Osborne

Queen's Hall

Keith Bruce

More years ago than I care to think about, I met this chamber music partnership in Orkney when the German cellist proved excellent company.

His laid-back reaction to un-silenced mobile phones yesterday morning showed he has lost none of his charm in the Quartet for the End of Time that launched the EIF Greyfriar's series.

Messiaen's wartime masterpiece might seem some distance from the programme of big works by Britten and Tippett, but perhaps not.

The two Britten works came from either side of the War Requiem that is at the Usher Hall tonight and were composed for Rostopovich, whose praise for Britten's work, in the face of the composer's uncertainty, is well-recorded.

But what was his input to the tech spec of the 1961 Sonata in C and the solo suite from 1965, with all their virtuoso pizzicato passages, long, slow lines with drone strings, lightning fingering and precision glissandos?

All these ingredients are present in the sonata, but the suite is the real showpiece for a cellist.

For my money the bleak conclusion identifies the piece as a quintessential Cold War work, reflecting the fears that fuelled the Aldermaston marches.

The early 1980s were also important years for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmanent, but it would be hard to claim an extra-musical concept behind Michael Tippett's Piano Concerto No 4. It was commissioned to mark his 80th birthday and its richness is in the volume of musical ideas that he piles on top of one another.

Tippett's sonatas are meat and drink to Osborne, and he found all the drama in the music's changes of pace.

Jordi Savall & Co

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Kate Molleson

Jordi Savall described this concert as "a vast musical fresco" and that it was: the celebrated Catalan viol player gave us a generous guided tour of a century of music from Europe and the Ottoman Empire, told in chronological order and punctuated with drum rolls and Gallic voice-overs.

The theme was War and Peace and Savall had gathered his troops: on stage were his two instrumental ensembles (Hesperion XXI and Le Concert des Nations), his vocal group (La Capella Reial de Catalunya) and a quartet of Turkish traditional musicians.

The colour spectrum produced by the amassed gaggle of ancient instruments was spectacular.

The century in question was 1614-1714 - which (in case the historic dates were not at the tip of your memory) mark the beginning of the Thirty Years' War and the end of the War of the Spanish Succession.

As you would expect from Savall, the programme was meticulously researched and artfully put together.

Each major conflict and peace treaty was illustrated with a work from the relevant time and place. Some were more interesting than others: there are surely more exciting choices from the 1640s than John Jenkins' deadly dull Newark Siege.

Performance quality varied, too. The voices were not generally strong enough to carry in the Usher Hall, and the modal twists of John Blow's Praise The Lord got the better of one unfortunate tenor.

But there were many beautiful moments: the dark-hued Aramaic lament; the rhythmic tugs and gutsy bass lines of Cabanilles's Batalla Imperial; and the hypnotic rounds of Vasily Titov's O Virgo, gem of the Russian baroque.

Savall himself had arranged a plangent Catalan "patriotic lamentation" to mark the 1714 Capitulation of Barcelona: a nod, perhaps, from one independence movement to another?

This review appeared in later editions of yesterday's Herald

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