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Published on Thursday 8 September 2016
Written by Garry Fraser

Scottish Ensemble group shot (Credit - Peter Dibdin 2015)

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To kick off their new season with a programme of music from the United States – 20th Century at the earliest – had a bit of the dare devil about it for the Scottish Ensemble. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea and there might have been some foreboding among members of the audience. But at the end of the Caird Hall concert it proved to be an astute piece of programming, with the music delivered with customary SE efficiency.

This was the end of the ensemble’s Dundee residency, so before we took a trip across the pond we enjoyed the fruits of the SE’s work with local schools and members of the Dundee Symphony Orchestra. James Redwood’s Tempest was given its public premier and I enjoyed it more than some of the other works in the programme.

These “other works” were Nico Muhly’s Motion and Shaker Loops, by my all-time nemesis John Adams. Paradoxically, Adams puts substance in minimalism and occasionally a melody will creep through but I find his music repetitive and hard to keep focused on. If any unit would help me change my mind, it’s Jonathan Morton and his colleagues, but even their prowess failed to convert me.

On the plus front was Manson’s Meeting in Nisqueunia, Philip Glass’ second string quartet and the daddy of them all, Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Manson’s clever networking of Shaker melodies was a delight to behold, including a hoe-down that had both feet tapping.

The Glass work is short, too short in my book, because it is an example of excellent construction, clever interweaving between parts and some beautiful pianissimo passages.

The Copland? Absolutely stunning! This showed the many finer points of the ensemble and showed the quality of music from the States before it was smothered in atonal minimalism. The opening and ending was magic, and the haunting entry of the song Simple Gifts and the way it passed back and forth was musical bliss.

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