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Review: Music

Scottish Ensemble

Scottish Ensemble

City Hall, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

JONATHAN Morton, artistic director of the Scottish Ensemble, himself asked the question of the night in his introduction to the group's concert in Glasgow on Sunday: in a programme entitled Love And War In Bohemia, what on earth is Handel doing here?

Morton's answer was disarmingly honest: "I have absolutely no idea." But the real question then was: does it matter?

And the answer to that was, unequivocally: not one jot.

Apart from anything else, the concert, which goes to the Wigmore Hall in London tomorrow night, was a marvellous display vehicle for the luxurious vocal riches of mezzo Sophie Harmsen to vent her rage and passion in arias from Hercules and Serse, and, impressively, explore emotional depths in the long, slow aria from Ariodante, which was numbing in its intensity.

Additionally, back on the Bohemian theme, Harmsen's presence gave the audience the rare opportunity to hear Dvorak's eight little Love Songs, in David Matthews's arrangement for voice and strings.

These are exquisite vignettes which, as Harmsen's performance demonstrated, exemplify the composer's genius at capturing, in just a few words and notes, the essence of an emotion.

We also heard, from the black side, Pavel Haas's Study For Strings, written in the death camp from which he never emerged.

And then (and how could it otherwise be Bohemian in the broadest sense?) we had a bit of noisy fun with Biber's riotously clattering Battalia before the concluding gem of the night - Josef Suk's idiomatic and glorious Serenade For Strings in a superb performance by the ensemble. I know this piece, and why it is not central to the repertoire is beyond me.

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