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Published on Monday 12 December 2016
Written by Garry Fraser


Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending has confounded many, myself included, by repeatedly notching the number one spot in Classic FM’s top of the pops. It’s nowhere near my top 1,000 classical favourites, but if any performance was to make me reconsider, it would with the Scottish Ensemble’s Jonathan Morton as soloist, performing Adam Johnson’s arrangement for strings. Morton’s superb solo performance in the Caird Hall on Friday night was personal, eloquent and intimate and dusted off the saccharine sweetness I normally attribute to this work. It certainly made me see the work in a new light and maybe, just maybe, catapulted it higher in the Fraser list of favourites.

Friday’s concert, with the Ensemble being joined by young players from NYOS and the Conservatoire in Glasgow, might have emphasised Vaughan Williams – with his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis ending the concert – but two other composers of lesser renown should not go unmentioned and who provided works slap bang in the Ensemble’s world. That is a world of precision, unilateral brilliance and superb interpretation.

Wojciech Kilar’s Orawa is a work of hypnotic excellence, with a beautifully-structured build-up interrupted by a frenetic dance. There was a sense of the perpetual mobile about it, and I lapped it up, eager to hear more of this man’s work.

The same can’t be said for the first of Dobrinka Tabakova’s two works. I found Such Different Paths lacking in substance and too long by far. However, the chalk to this cheese was her Concerto for Cello and Strings. If there’s a better slow movement in contemporary music for soloist and orchestra than Longing, I’d be surprised. It was the perfect example of soloist wrapped in beautiful harmonies, with soloist David Cohen’s lyrical qualities standing out in abundance.

His other qualities of flair and technical wizardry had been highlighted earlier in the opening movement, with multi-octave jumps in the blink of an eye and some amazing finger board gymnastics.

And as for the Tallis work, it is a composition of outstanding beauty and perfect for such a unit as the SE, whose warmth of texture and exposition of multi-layered harmonies is one of their many qualities. Many composers have been inspired with Renaissance music, but this work is up there at the very top.