Published on Tuesday 13 September 2016
Written by Michael Tumelty
AT their first appearance in the Royal Concert Hall’s New Auditorium, Jonathan Morton and his Scottish Ensemble, using the space as a small chamber hall with a stage, opened up a few more horizons for a group with a vision.
Morton’s mantra is “redefining the string orchestra”. He took that one stage further on Sunday by adding other instruments to the string ensemble: piano, flute, clarinet and bassoon. Instantly, of course, the repertoire horizons of the group expanded, allowing the artistic director to add breadth and greater colour to his terrific all-American programme, played to a near-capacity audience who, I think, lapped it all up (I certainly did.)
It was one of those performances where you could feel the character of the music through the playing and almost sense the zest and warmth with which it was delivered. It was there to be heard in the beauty and excitement of Mark Stewart’s To Whom It May Concern, rolling effortlessly into the taut, cogent rhythms of John Adams’ Shaker Loops – the best performance of that piece I’ve ever heard. It touched the clever and sophisticated convolutions of Nico Muhly’s Motion, and gave us an incredibly concise account of Philip Glass’s Second String Quartet.
But the ultimate and absolute joy for this listener lay in the performances of James Manson’s collection of Shaker tunes, Meeting at Nisqueunia, a fabulous piece, and Copland’s Appalachian Spring, which received an utterly gorgeous performance, with all the spaciousness you could wish for in this masterpiece. Bravo to all: I came home with a big daft smile on my face.