Scottish Ensemble

Wellington Church, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

THE FLICKERING light of the church candles augmented by the glow of their foot-switch operated tablet computer music stands, and the shimmering bling of guest guitarist Sean Shibe’s Christmas shirt, Jonathan Morton’s Scottish Ensemble are on their annual pilgrimage to reinvent the seasonal concert.

The 15 instrumentalists are playing some music composed for the season, but rather more appropriated for this programme. A first half of baroque works included a Vivaldi Concerto for Lute with Shibe, Bach played by a string quartet (plus bassist Diane Clark for the closing bars) with the rest of the instrumentalists becoming a ten-voice chorale, and a five-movement Christmas Concerto by Arcangelo Corelli that confirms the case put forward by Robert Philip in his recently-published The Classical Music Lover’s Companion to Orchestral Music that orchestration begins with the Italian violinist’s Opus 6 Concerti Grossi.

After the interval, a carefully-constructed journey through music of the 20th century – and later – included Shibe’s second appearance with the ensemble, for Malcolm Arnold’s Serenade for Guitar and Strings. The filmic Pastoral/Action Sequence/Pastoral structure of that piece not only echoed the tempo shifts in the early music, but also appropriately followed the newer work, Sally Beamish’s Under the Wing of the Rock, with Jane Atkins the viola soloist in what is a picturesque pocket concerto. That its Celtic strains have not been deployed on recent films and TV programmes about Scottish royals and clan history is a remarkable oversight.

Atkins had been introduced to her solo role with the third movement Intermezzo from Holst’s St Paul’s Suite, and the whole second half was bracketed by the first and final movements of the work that gave the whole evening its title, Musica Adventus. There is little especially Yule about Latvian composer Peteris Vasks’s arrangement for string orchestra of his String Quartet No. 3, but his contemporary atmospherics had a great deal to say about the special atmosphere of this concert.

Touring to St Machar’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, Thursday December 6; Inverness Cathedral December 7; St John’s Kirk, Perth December 8; and Crichton Church, Dumfries December 9.