Celtic Connections

Mr McFall's Chamber, Strathclyde Suite, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce


AN education is rarely as much fun as this, and congratulations to Robert McFall for realising that the Creative Scotland-supported Distil project, which gives traditional music composers the resources of professional classical players to explore their ideas, needed its own showcase at Celtic Connections. Several more cheers for the fact that the bulk of the music played was written by women.

Exceptions were Hamish Napier's Lament for John McGann, pianist Andrew Dunlop's Hooley in Blue, a multi-voiced excursion for Distil, indicative of exactly how broadly the compositional style of the work had developed, and a timely revisiting of part of the McFalls's own Martyn Bennett project and their lovely arrangement of Peewits, with first violin Rosenna East reprising her Scots version of Vaughan Williams's popular Lark.

In the case of harpist Corrina Hewat, that development was audible in the work of a single composer, whose three works included the Penguin Cafe-esque Making the Connection, which had featured Bennett when it was played as one of Celtic's inaugural New Voices commissions in 1998, and the brand new Breathing in Quoyloo, a much more distinctive and confident work, again with a star role for East. Her octet,The Black Isle, from the McFall's Four Corners programme sat nicely between the two.

Gillian Fleetwood's journey was from the relative simplicity of Craft Part 2 to Hospital, premiered here, and interesting for its emulating of contemporary hi-tech medical equipment in its score, but even more so for its inventive use of the full sonic palette of the strings, and a lovely waltz section. The showstoppers of the evening came from singer and fiddler Kate Young, whose own distinctive songs were followed by her footstomping mastery of Bulgarian folk singing.