Tuesday, July 04, 2006

FESTIVAL://Alasdair Nicolson premiered

By Keith Bruce
From The Herald - June 22 2006

Were it not for the Limbe Choir, the Nash Ensemble, back for the third year in a row, would be the most ubiquitous group at this year's St Magnus Festival. Clarinetist Richard Hosford has been the most featured player (with harpist Lucy Wakeford close behind) and his showcase has run from the performance of Mozart's sublime quintet and James MacMillan's Tuireadh on Sunday through to Aaron Copland's clarinet concerto, written for Benny Goodman, and performed with the Scottish Ensemble on Tuesday. Until the bridging cadenza, the Copland is neither very jazzy nor particularly clarinet-y, but the second movement, with pianist Ian Brown and bassist Diane Clark as rhythm section, just lacked Philly Joe Jones behind the drums.

Two of the 70th "birthday presents" to festival founder Sir Peter Maxwell Davies re-emerged in the Nash's repertoire as fully formed pieces. At St Magnus Kirk at Birsay on Monday, Simon Holt's viola solo Sickle Moon was joined by two other spooky movements, scored for an ensemble completed by harp and flute. Then, in the cathedral on Tuesday evening, The Stamping Ground was the premiere of the full development of Alasdair Nicolson's gift to Max two years ago, and an evocative sublimation of local traditional music into a work for a larger ensemble. A very similar group played David Horne's Splintered Instruments, directed with characteristic attention to detail and absolutely transparent intent by Martyn Brabbins.

Ravel's lovely Introduction and Allegro and Maxwell Davies's less well-known but equally elegant Dove, Star-Folded were followed by a peerless F Minor Piano Quintet by Johannes Brahms, its military scherzo and wonderfully constructed finale given a performance absolutely out of the top drawer.

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