Scottish Ensemble

SWG3, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

I AM not sure that the title – Continental Drift – given to this marvellous collaboration between Jonathan Morton’s Scottish Ensemble and three virtuosi on ancient instruments from further East in the global story of music-making sold the concert enthusiastically enough, but that did not hinder a large audience seeking out one of Glasgow’s newer arts venues to hear it.

Brothers Keyvan and Bijan Chemirani and Sokratis Sinopoulos added zarb and other percussion, the lute-like Baglama or Saz, santoor (a small hammered dulcimer) and lyra (an exquisite three-stringed bowed instrument held between the knees liked a tiny cello) to the Ensemble’s Western strings and, in the second half, Tom Poster’s harpsichord. The repertoire bounced between the Western canon and Keyvan Chemirani’s own compositions, which themselves covered a wide range from percussion showpieces to Grybbon, a dedication to his wife built around a bass figure closely related to the one in King Crimson’s Starless.

It was followed by a sequence that embraced the music of Purcell and Rameau but which began with Salih Dede’s Whirling Dervish tune, melodically not unlike Charlie Chaplin’s Smile. Those sort of resonances, while superficially surprising, made perfect sense in the context, where everyone on stage was contributing to the shared understanding of a common language. Bassist James Manson supplied the transcription of the music of Hildegard von Bingen, and violinist Daniel Pioro led the ensemble in the Rameau, which sounded not unlike the practice of Jordi Savall from a smaller, dynamic group. Morton’s movement from a sonata by Dresden baroque violinist Johann Paul von Westhoff led directly into three Romanian Folk Dances by Bela Bartok, performed by Sinopoulos on the lyra with breath-catching accuracy and emotion.

An obvious comparison with the partnership Morton and Chemirani had forged for this programme would be the globe-spanning commissioning of the Kronos Quartet, but I have not heard anything as heartfelt from that world-famous group as the best of the music this collective made. Let’s have more of it soon please.

Scottish Ensemble is in Lerwick (Mareel) tonight.