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International Festival: Reviews

Sister Marie Keyrouz/l'Ensemble de la Paix, Greyfriars Kirk

TALENT: The Artemis Quartet members share an airy, unshowy virtuosity.
TALENT: The Artemis Quartet members share an airy, unshowy virtuosity.

Sister Marie Keyrouz/l'Ensemble de la Paix, Greyfriars Kirk

Michael Tumelty

AND still they turn up. Before 5pm on Wednesday, the queue for the daily 5.45pm Greyfriars Kirk Festival concert was snaking down from the Kirk towards the main road. By 5.45pm, the place was stuffed and there was a rather extraordinary buzz of anticipation. For what? Well ... er ... for a nun, actually. Not, I hasten to add, the Singing Nun, and if you're between 50 and 60, you'll know to whom I refer.

No, this crowd was not for the Singing Nun, but for a nun who sings. Sister Marie Keyrouz, a Lebanese nun, musicologist and church singer, whose repertoire is drawn from the fruits of her researches into the music of the earliest Christian churches, has been here before.

But she is so unique that her return on Wednesday, with her Ensemble of Peace - six singers and no instruments - furnished a glorious platform from which to hear music from the very beginnings of what we might call, laughably, now, in a desperate world, Western civilisation and its eastern origins. Look at the great sources of this music, including Syria. From this contemporary platform we can gaze back almost 2,000 years and hear how and where it began.

The programme layout was difficult to follow - it lacked clarity and succinctness - but that nun's voice, soaring reverentially in chants, hymns, celebrations and contemplations - now rhapsodic, now ecstatic and impassioned, now subdued to intimacy over the constant pedal point provided by her six male voices, and always with a florid, Eastern tinge to its melody - sang to the hearts of its listeners. It was alluring and magical in its purity and honesty.

Paul Lewis

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Kate Molleson

Paul Lewis walks on stage in the same way that he plays: straight-backed, matter-of-fact, giving little of himself away. The Liverpool-born pianist established his Beethoven credentials nearly a decade ago when he performed and recorded all the sonatas and concertos. In this concert he returned to four sonatas - two middle period, two late - and delivered them with steely, meticulous resolve. It was impossible not to admire his stamina and discipline, but the evening left me feeling little else.

Lewis opened with the Sonata in E Major, Opus 109, making its lilting first movement sound forthright and staunch. The filigree neo-baroque patterning and recitative passages had little delicacy and the stormy second movement did not come as much of a shock; even the third movement's chorale was clean and simple, but nothing special.

Only in the first variation - that bittersweet slow waltz - did Lewis allow the phrases to breathe a bit, but generally he underplayed the radicalism of this most extraordinary movement and passed through its metric shifts and flourishes of improvisation without a blink.

The result was that the final return of the chorale felt straightforward, whereas by this point we should be feeling utterly changed.

And so it went on. The Moonlight Sonata, Opus 27 no 2, was poker-faced in its opening movement, robust in its second, implacable in its third. In the Sonata in E-flat, Opus 27 no 1, Lewis gave us a suddenly tender Adagio with a sweetly vocalised melody.

In the programme's final work, the Sonata in C minor, Opus 111, it was once again the simplest passages that revealed the deepest colour: the Arietta was as warm and unhurried as much of the rest of the evening was cool.

This review appeared in later editions of yesterday's Herald

Artemis Quartet

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

The Berlin-based Artemis Quartet perform standing up (the cellist sits on a plinth so he can communicate eye-to-eye with his colleagues). Does it make any difference? For string ensembles and chamber groups, standing up has become visual code for engaged, youthful, sparky playing. In some cases the sound doesn't match the image; with the Artemis, it most certainly does.

The quartet was established in 1989 and has had several personnel changes since, including the recent addition of Latvian violinist Vineta Sareika as leader. All four members share an airy, unshowy virtuosity: nothing they do is ponderous. Could I recognise their sound in a line-up of other good young string quartets? Possibly not, but that's in no way to diminish their skill or commitment.

Above all they're known for Beethoven, but played none of his music here. Instead they opened with Mozart: the String Quartet in G major K387 was light, luminous and brimming with energy. In Bartok's Third String Quartet their approach was fast and furious. Not a note was out of place - the delivery was almost too clean for such gritty, gutsy music.

We had the luxury of hearing the first movement of Schubert's Death and the Maiden twice when Sareika snapped a string and had no option but to leave the stage and mend it.

She returned with composure intact and the second hearing underlined just how meticulous the quartet's preparation must be: every phrase was recreated with the same acute nuances.

Overall, their performance was full of crisp rhythms and brisk tempos. Schubert's sorrow was bracing rather than all-engulfing and inconsolable. Whether that's enough depends on each listener's appetite for anguish. For me, it was all just a shade too bright.

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