Perth Festival

Hebrides Ensemble

St John’s Kirk, Perth

Keith Bruce

four stars

NOT only had the long-established Hebrides Ensemble not previously performed at the Perth Festival of the Arts during the event’s half century, but it has taken five years for Festival Director Helen Band to rectify that odd anomaly, with Covid 19 a major part of the reason for that.

This was, however, a superb iteration of cellist Will Conway’s chamber group making its belated debut – every one of the players on stage, including RSNO principal flute Katherine Bryan, BBC SSO first clarinet Yann Ghiro and Irish Chamber Orchestra leader Katherine Hunka, stars in other facets of their musical life.

The septet, completed by harpist Sharron Griffiths, violinist Siun Milne and Jessica Beeston on viola, came together only for the final work, Maurice Ravel’s delicious Introduction and Allegro, when the fullness of the ensemble sound in St John’s resonant but clear acoustic was matched to a brilliant rhythmic sensibility in a propulsive closing flourish.


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The other French music, in a concert celebrating that nation’s “Auld Alliance” with Scotland, came from Claude Debussy, whose Danse sacrée et danse profane was composed as a harp showcase but has equally fine writing for string quartet, Jean Francaix, with a movement from his Clarinet Quintet, and Olivier Messiaen. Ghiro’s masterly performance of the solo clarinet movement from Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Abime des oiseaux, is an established showpiece, as his well-thumbed score advertised, and it sounded superb in this space.

Opportunities to hear Bryan play chamber music are also much to be prized. Her flute was to the fore at the opening of Sally Beamish’s trio with harp and viola, Between Earth and Sea, from 1997 and a Celtic lament also derived from birdsong, in this case specifically the call of the redshank.

It shared some Scottish traditional music influence with Judith Weir’s Bagpiper’s String Trio, the witty work from the Master of the King’s Music that opened the programme, a playful, and often liquid-sounding, toast to “the Prince over the sea”.

The most challenging work of the evening was Lyell Cresswell’s 15-minute Variations on a Theme by Charles Ives, a multi-movement feast of musical invention for the rare combination of flute and cello. It was recorded by the Hebrides Ensemble some years ago, and Conway had an excellent partner in Bryan for this overdue revisit, remembering a composer we lost during the pandemic.