The Night With... Garth Knox

The Hug & Pint, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE most minimal of the current run of performances in Matthew Whiteside’s recital series in the tiny basement venue near Glasgow’s St George’s Cross drew a capacity house attracted by the combination of curiosity and virtuosity that characterises the whole project.

Garth Knox was a member of Pierre Boulez’s Ensemble InterContemporain in the 1980s and held the viola chair of the Arditti Quartet in the 1990s, both posts that involved playing new music by all the major names in 20th century composition. As a soloist he has continued that path and this performance married works written for him, including a split-new one by Royal Conservatoire of Scotland composition student Nora Marazaite, with early music, all of it performed on the fourteen-string viola d’amore.

The chordal possibilities of all those strings, half of them resonating beneath the fingerboard and bridge and not strictly “playable”, were fully exploited by Marazaite, but other works in he programme, including one by Whiteside himself and Olga Neuwirth’s Risonanze, sought to enhance its acoustic properties with extra amplification (Neuwirth) and electronics (Whiteside). In fact the natural sound of the instrument itself is more that enough to be listening to as well as being a handful to play, and that was as true for the 12th century tunes of abbess Hildegard of Bingen and the “Folies” for the court of Louis XIV by Marin Marais, as the two pieces by Northern Irish composers Simon Mawhinney and Ed Bennett. The former’s Nendrum was inspired by the sounds of nature around the island monastery of the title, while the latter majored on the dominant tonality (D) of the instrument itself.

But, perhaps inevitably, the best demonstration of the capabilities of the ancient instrument came in a suite of five short pieces composed by Knox himself, Cinq Petites Entropies, with which he closed. Using every possible part of the fiddle, and some incredible bowing techniques, his atmospheric miniatures were as fascinating as everything that had preceded them.