Milngavie Music Club 75th Anniversary Concert

Cairns Church, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

SCOTLAND’S remarkable network of music clubs and societies, funded through Enterprise Music Scotland, includes a few that are as venerable as the one established in 1942 by Alex Duncan and Herbert Downes, but the concerts Milngavie has hosted are among the most prestigious any have staged. To mark the club’s 75th birthday, current president Hugh Macdonald introduced a programme derived from a weekend in 1953 when Benjamin Britten, Peter Pears and the Amadeus Quartet played Haydn, Schumann and Vaughan Williams. Back then I am sure that Milngavie would not have been able to look so close to home to find musicians of the calibre of pianist Susan Tomes, tenor Jamie MacDougall and the Maxwell Quartet – the latter hot foot from winning the Trondheim International Chamber Music Competition.

The String Quartet in D from his Opus 71 is among the most sophisticated Haydn wrote, with a radical third movement and a sparkling finale, and all of that came through in the beautifully blended sound of the Maxwells. If this was repertoire they knew, Vaughan Williams’s Song Cycle: On Wenlock Edge was a first for both players and singer, although you would never have guessed from the commanding performance. Coupled with the muted strings, MacDougall’s reading of this setting of Housman’s moving Is my team ploughing? had emotional drama all too appropriate for this Remembrance weekend.

Schumann’s brilliant Piano Quintet from 1842 – by common consent the composer at the height of his powers – has just as eloquent a dialogue. Alongside the dynamic playing of Tomes, the beautiful tone of cellist Duncan Strachan had starring role here, on the journey to a Scherzo that is a delight just on its own and final Allegro that is as eloquent an expression of his creativity – and the inspiration of his wife, Clara – as the composer ever achieved.