Scottish Ensemble

Wellington Church, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

THE Scottish Ensemble’s seasonal Concerts by Candlelight always have a special atmosphere, but this programme, For a Winter’s Night, performed for the final time in Glasgow at the end of an eight-date tour that began in Cockermouth on December 3, may well have surpassed the inventive programming of previous years.

With 50 years of the ensemble’s history to celebrate, leader and artistic director Jonathan Morton had assembled a concert that revisited past glories as well as being a showcase of the strengths of the group now. That meant work by contemporary composers with whom the ensemble has collaborated, Martin Sucking and Anna Meredith, geographical excursions to India, Transylvania and Shetland, arrangements by regular team members Daniel Pioro and bassist James Manson, a solo carol feature for cellist Alison Lawrance, and music from Bach, Britten, Dvorak, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky alongside a tea-dance favourite from the Great American Songbook, Tenderly by Walter Gross.

The flow of the first half was truly wonderful, beginning with Gorecki and ending with Tavener’s Tears of Angels (the composer at his most emotive, or patience-stretching, depending on your view), featured a glorious Holst/Meredith/Grieg sequence and a walkabout by Morton playing Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons entirely on harmonics.

That detail was mirrored after the interval in a wander to the back of the church by recent recruit Alastair Savage, demonstrating his traditional fiddle skills on an arrangement of Day Dawn by Henning Sommerrro. If the second half sequencing was not quite as cleverly seamless as the first, until that point its romantic tone had made it the ideal playlist for anyone contemplating popping the question on Christmas Eve.

With a second bassist, Young Artist programme student from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Olaya Garcia Alvarez, alongside regular Diane Clark, demonstrating another facet of the group’s current work, all of this diverse repertoire was immaculately played throughout. Festive events are very rarely as flawless as this one.