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Reviews

SCO Rossen

SCO Rossen

City Hall, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

I'm going to be bluntly honest here, and if the outcome is that I am pronounced a philistine, then so be it.

For me, the SCO's concert on Friday night was over after Haydn's Horn Signal Symphony.

Had I been a paying customer, I would have left at that point, eschewing the pleasure of hearing a second set of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, even though it was the better known set, opus 46.

Quite simply, the concert had run its course, and had said all it had to say.

We'd already had, as an opener, a set of the Slavonic Dances, from opus 72.

And these pieces are no aphorisms. We'd also had a mesmerising performance from the great Tasmin Little of Ligeti's tough and challenging Violin Concerto, whose rustling, buzzing and swarming pages bemused and baffled many listeners (who made a point of telling me); I enjoyed it, and thrilled at the moments of raw, naked Hungarian folk music that periodically poked through the busy texture.

And we'd also had an exhilarating performance from the SCO of Haydn's endlessly inventive Horn Signal Symphony. That felt, to me, like a natural end to a good show, with an interesting conductor, Rossen Gergov, replacing an ill Robin Ticciati.

But it wasn't the end, as they all went back to the buffet and piled their plates with more portions.

By 10pm, I was overstuffed and had had more than enough. The second helping of Slavonic Dances was a sweet course too far.

The SCO will NOT agree (it was their show) but to me it was a strategic error in programme planning. Less is always more.

RSNO/Malkki

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty

Programme notes and commentaries by composers on their latest pieces are often a nightmare.

Saturday's performance by the RSNO of Kaaija Saariaho's Circle Map, a UK premiere, contained a classic: "The title of the piece is a mathematical term describing circular dynamic systems." Eh?

That was one instant and insurmountable barrier firmly in place between listener and music.

Why do composers drag us beneath the bonnet of their inspiration, into a world of semantically meaningless guff? Do they think it helps? Everybody around me absolutely hated it. I sensed alienation everywhere. "I can't take that", snapped one man on the way out of the hall.

"What was that?" asked the gentleman behind me. I told him it was a kind of modern impressionism, but I don't think that helped.

It was actually a very good piece, a big one too, with six movements, that was all about atmospheres, colours, moods and movement.

The RSNO's executive producer had a go at calming the waters of modern music in the programme book.

But the fact is that the big, historic old issue of modern music and the RSNO audience is as knotty as ever. What is to be done? Let's think about that again soon.

Otherwise, there was a beguiling performance of Prokofiev's First Violin Concerto given by Jack Liebeck, which aptly highlighted the gorgeous melodies and harmonies of the piece, while imbuing them with an unusual tenderness and fragility, and a performance of Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition, where the neat and compact Finnish conductor Susanna Malkki didn't quite secure the mysterious unity within a piece that seems intrinsically episodic, but which is definitely there.

Playtime

Outhouse, Edinburgh

Rob Adams

The apparently light-hearted name of this new jazz session masks a serious situation that has led to a number of Scotland's foremost jazz talents considering their futures elsewhere due to a lack of work opportunities.

Rather than sit around and hope for an improvement, the musicians are creating their own gigs, which if not notably well remunerated and requiring them to act as their own PR team, at least allow them to play and showcase new compositions.

This was the second musician-generated project to begin last week - a new monthly session was launched in Glasgow earlier - and the first signs were of something very worthwhile indeed.

The house band of saxophonist Martin Kershaw, guitarist Graeme Stephen, bassist Mario Caribe and drummer Tom Bancroft are all experienced creative musicians and composers and while not all of the music qualified as new, there was a general freshness of approach and a stylistic variety that, allied to the Outhouse's intimate and conducive loft, made for a great evening.

Kershaw's contrasting Vanbrugh and Irritant - the one pastoral and atmospheric, the other intricate, insistent and fidgety - offered a fine example of the different approaches taken to composition.

Likewise, Caribe's romantic waltz for a lost teenage love, written when he was 18 and showing considerable musical maturity, and Fluids, composed specially for the occasion and calling for urgent, urban grooves from the marvellously resourceful rhythm section while allowing freewheeling but still shapely improvising from Kershaw and the ever-inquiring Stephen.

Future weeks promise the same quartet this Thursday, Stephen's score for the silent horror film Nosferatu (April 3), and guitar, bass and drums adventures (April 10) - all deserving of support.

Tcha Limberger & his Budapest Gypsy Orchestra

Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

Rob Adams

Desperate love - where would the Hungarian nobility of the early nineteenth century have been without it?

When Hungary's landed gentry created what amounted to a new tradition by composing songs and tunes and hiring gypsy musicians to play and accompany them it was searing passion that was their muse.

So says Tcha Limberger and who's going to argue with someone who articulates the Magyar Nota - literally Hungarian song - style with such expression and fluency, and such character?

Character is the overriding impression gained from Limberger and his orchestra.

Comprising Limberger on violin plus second violin, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet and the extraordinary box of sounds that is the cimbalom (or hammered dulcimer), this wasn't so much an ensemble as a shoal that seemed to gravitate around the melodies and swim with the changing rhythms and dynamics to create a rich, harmonious swell of emotion. We never learned the names of all the tunes but these musicians lived them, expressing heartbreak but also in a sense dancing with phenomenal dexterity and mobility.

Limberger is a charming host, singing with a kind of bashful authority as well playing with sweet soulfulness and bow-shredding glee, but equally fascinating are the techniques employed by his fellow string players.

Their bows variously slither and slide, bump, grind, rasp and caress the strings to marvellously supportive effect while Limberger, clarinettist Csaba Lukaks and cimbalom master Istvan Feher, a facially impassive but physically ultra-active presence, play and extemporise on the melodies like jazz soloists and yet with a sense of form and structure seemingly untouched by other cultures. In short, they were a blast.

Willie Campbell

CCA, Glasgow

Rob Adams

The former front man for Glasgow indie rock band Astrid and sometime component of The Reindeer Section, Willie Campbell is having his troubles and re-emergence well-rehearsed currently as he combines his musical experience and interests with the Gaelic language he rejected as a teenager but is now pursuing following a return to his native Lewis.

Gaelic's Glasgow promotion wing, Ceol's Craic, has got behind Campbell, releasing his first album of songs in Gaelic, Dalma, and it's not hard to imagine some of these songs becoming anthems for Gaelic-speaking youths in the way Runrig's music was embraced and celebrated in the Gaidhealtachd.

In essence, what Campbell and his co-writer, Calum Martin have created is a kind of Gaelic Americana, an idea given emphasis by the adoption of bluegrass masters the Louvin Brothers' gospel classic Nearer My God To Thee, Tha M' Anam Trom A Dhe's kinship with worksong Jailer Bring Me Water (although the latter might well have Hebridean roots), and a certain Byrds-like jangle on Samhach Tha Mo Chridhe, on which Martin joined Campbell and band onstage here at the album's official launch.

Campbell acknowledged his limitations as a frontman and he might need to work on this aspect of his presentation as he takes these songs out to non-Gaelic-speaking audiences. For the moment, though, he has a workmanlike approach and a capable band that did a fine job recreating the insistent throb of A' Coiseachd Air Grunnd Na Mara and made Am Balach Coir sound like a credible piece of Gaelic grunge that lives up to Dalma's various translations as bold, forward, audacious, impudent, and Campbell's own preference - brazen.

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