Cumnock Tryst

McFall’s Chamber & Cappella Nova

Trinity Church, Cumnock

Keith Bruce


IF a festival reflects the personality of its artistic director, the eclecticism of the sixth extended weekend of activity established by Sir James MacMillan in his home town speaks of broad catholic tastes, with a small “c”, perhaps somewhat at odds with the composer’s public image.

But the invitation to Mr McFall’s Chamber to be this year’s resident group makes absolute sense. When violinist Robert McFall’s septet encored with some Polish tango music, the only occasion on which all the players were on stage together, it seemed a far from surprising conclusion.

Although it boasted two world premieres by local composer Michael Murray, the key work in this programme was by MacMillan himself. Cumnock Fair was first played by this group 20 years ago, composed to inspire pupils at Cumnock Academy as part of a workshop for young composers. It is a rumbustious piece, full of merriment and fun, with ringing percussive piano by Simon Smith, that might be a theme tune for the event in its different influences, and boasts a false ending that Joseph Haydn would have been proud of.

Its success in that original purpose might be judged by the fact that Murray was one of those young people. His two choral works, performed by a double choir of 12 singers directed by Alan Tavener, drew inspiration from Beethoven and the Bible. The Last Fantasy was a contemporary invocation of the apocalypse, couched in an odd mix of modern language and older allusion, while the brief Shade Psalm consisted of three imagined dialogues between Jesus and characters from scripture.

They were unsettling works, given committed performances by the musicians, but I confess to finding them difficult to read.

The rest of the instrumental music in the programme came from further afield, and in Glazunov’s Reverie orientale (a beautifully atmospheric opener) and Penderecki’s Three Miniatures for Clarinet and Piano, featured the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s principal clarinet Maximiliano Martin, who is also featured soloist on the group’s new Delphian disc Born In Dirt ‘An Din. The simple dialogue of the miniatures sparkled and they were followed by a contemporaneous Piano Quintet by Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz, which, like the Glazunov, gave a moment in the spotlight to the group’s founding viola player, Brian Schiele.

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