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Published on Friday 2 June 2017
Written by Garry Fraser


Sometimes music written in a so-called neo-Classical or neo-Baroque style flatters to deceive. Sometimes a composer’s work re-written for a totally different medium falls totally flat. And sometimes a composer’s re-shaping of a composition loses much value in translation. However, that word didn’t come into play with regard to the Scottish Ensemble’s performance in the Caird Hall on Wednesday night. The composers on show were true to their word, either abiding by their decision to style their music music a la Baroque, turning a work into another form that might even accentuate its beauty or revising a piece that made it even more of a pleasure.

Even Henryk Gorecki came up trumps, not something I’ve often had to say about this man. However, his Three Pieces in the Old Style ticked every box with me, particularly the middle dance-like movement. So too did Bacewicz’s Concerto for Strings. It was the form of this rather than its content that allied itself to the Baroque era and the composer manages to combine rich harmonies with contemporary atonalism to marvellous effect. The last of the works acknowledging this era was Henryk Czyz, whose beautiful Canzona was too short for my liking.

These are works you don’t normally come across, but the Ensemble’s insatiable desire to tread new grounds remains undiminished.

In the second category of “sometimes” was David Mathews’ 2014 commission by the Ensemble, an arrangement for strings of two Chopin nocturnes, originally written for piano. One might wonder why on earth, but the result was two pieces totally honest to the originals and totally captivating. Thirdly, Dvorak’s arrangement of his G major string quintet was another thing of beauty, the decision to include a short, sensational Intermezzo adding cream to a scrumptious musical treat. Scored for only five players, it was both intimate and mesmerising.

Where does the Ensemble fit into all of this? Well “sometimes” isn’t in their vocabulary because they continually provide nothing less than a world class performance. With guest leader Bartosz Woroch, they were the familiar epitome of excellence. They have the uncanny knack of making a poor work sound great but on this occasion they made five excellent works sound totally outstanding.