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Published on Thursday 22 February 2018
Written by Keith Bruce

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WHEN illness forced mezzo-soprano Christine Rice to pull out of the Scottish Ensemble’s run of “Prophecy” concerts that thematically linked the music of three centuries in the inspiration of tales from Ancient Greece, the group can hardly have hoped to secure a replacement as appropriate – and bankable – as local hero Karen Cargill. Both singers have, for example, acclaimed Judiths in Duke Bluebeard’s Castle on their CVs, and both have the range of repertoire that this programme also displayed. But for her Scottish fans, the opportunity to hear Cargill in the intimate company of a dozen strings singing Purcell’s Dido’s Lament after Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos and an aria from the final act of Berlioz’s epic Trojans was a rare and unmissable treat.

The vocal music was bracketed by Stravinsky’s Apollo, which I am sure I will not have been alone in last hearing played live when the resurgent Scottish Ballet, directed by Ashley Page, danced an all-Balanchine programme in the Playhouse at the 2005 Edinburgh Festival with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the pit. Played by fewer than half the strings it is scored for, the detail of the music was wonderfully clear with guest leader Matthew Truscott cast as Apollo, in the dialogue with the Three Muses, and the cellos of Alison Lawrance and Naomi Pavri much to the fore in the variations that followed. The closing trio of instrumental pieces – and especially the middle jazzy Coda with its lively rhythms – really brought the best from the players.

If I had a misgiving about the adventurous programme it was only that the Ensemble had not been even bolder and played it without breaks. When this happened in the second half – an addition of the overture to Dido leading directly into the Berlioz – the years separating the composers seemed completely irrelevant.

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