Festival Music


Edinburgh Playhouse

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE FIRST collaboration between Glasgow's Celtic Connections and the Edinburgh International Festival may be the most significant long term aspect of this repeat performance of Greg Lawson's remarkable orchestration of Martyn Bennett's album, but it was also a bizarre coincidence that this packed concert followed a day after the Quincy Jones Prom at the Royal Albert Hall. Assembled onstage, from all genres of Scottish musical life, was our version of Holland's superb Metropole Orkest that so impressed on that back catalogue, orchestral players from the SCO, BBC SSO, Opera orchestra and freelance world side by side with our top jazz players and traditional musicians and singers, and choristers from the chapel of Glasgow University. The crucial difference was, of course, that "Q", at 83, was present in London, while Bennett died 50 years younger over ten years ago.

Although the arrangement of GRIT was in some ways the smaller undertaking, Lawson – conducting his own work and an amiable emcee as well – could probably boast the greater palette of ingredients, with the narration of David Hayman, from Biblical fire and brimstone to show-stopping macabre balladry, in the mix alongside his own and recorded verbal contributions in the attempt to convey the very personal complexity of the iconoclastic young composer's last work.

The result is both very moving and often tremendously exciting, even if this rich work can also be a little exhausting, so that moments like a tenor sax solo from Phil Bancroft, with just his brother Tom's drums for accompaniment, or Rab Noakes singing alone with his guitar, are very welcome amid the full-on treatment. And we all sang along after the latter, which was the only way it could finish.