Perth Festival

Ayoub Sisters

Perth Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

A HOMEMADE cover of Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk propelled Glasgow’s Ayoub Sisters swiftly along the path from conservatoire to Abbey Road Studios, so their ability to apply today’s technology to their virtuosity as string players is not a new thing.

It would seem, however, that the privations of pandemic lockdown afforded violinist Laura and cellist Sarah the opportunity to hone their arranging skills, and chops on the loop station, to new heights.

This Perth Festival date was part of a tour to promote the punningly-titled Arabesque album, the follow-up to their self-titled debut disc, and there was a long queue for signed copies after it finished with an encore medley of Scotland’s greatest hits.

That was the only occasion when Sarah sat at Perth’s handsome Steinway piano, accompanying her sister with some beautiful playing on a swift run through Flower of Scotland, Auld Lang Syne, Loch Lomond, Mhairi’s Wedding and Scotland the Brave. If the arrangement was their own work, it was startling; if they had borrowed it, it was still superbly well played.

Although we had heard Laura’s folk fiddle playing earlier in the evening, much of the rest of the programme focused on their family heritage in Egypt, with excursions to Bollywood India, the equally invented Europop world of Boney M’s Rasputin, and Paul McCartney’s Blackbird, a regular visitor to the repertoire of the classically-trained.

The music of Arabesque draws on folk tunes of the Middle East and chants of the Coptic Christian and Muslim traditions. Although they never mention it themselves, these young women, with their open ears, sampling skills and pioneering music-making, are building bridges where any fool can see music can be at its most useful in our troubled world. In the process, they are also in danger of giving “classical crossover” a good name.

The “supporting attraction” for this chamber-sized pop concert was The Lark Piano Trio – violinist Emma Baird, cellist Helena La Grand and pianist Anna Michels – a product of post-graduate studies at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

In what would have been bold programming from Perth Festival in any year of its half-century, they preceded a movement of Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires with the heavier fare of Rebecca Clarke’s 1921 Piano Trio.

The dissonant turbulence of its opening movement, which returns to disrupt the angular dance of the finale, marks this challenging piece as a bold comment from the home front on the horrors of the First World War, while the slow central movement is full of anguish.

It is a superb work, from a too-little-performed composer, and it was a joy to hear it in this context.