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Scottish Ensemble reaches back in time for much of the Inverness Cathedral Concert By Candlelight – but offers an upbeat conclusion


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The Scottish Ensemble have been the first of the larger instrumental ensembles to venture back to the Highlands after lockdown, so it was only appropriate that they attracted a large audience for their annual Concert By Candlelight in Inverness Cathedral.

Scottish Ensemble at Inverness Cathedral. Picture: Thomas Slack
Scottish Ensemble at Inverness Cathedral. Picture: Thomas Slack

Over the years, these events have had less and less to do with Christmas, and this latest programme, entitled Warmth and Restoration, proved a potpourri of short pieces from across the centuries.

Matthew Truscott, directing the Ensemble for this tour, is famous for his work with period instrument groups, opened by declaring his love of the music of Purcell, and the concert duly started with a wonderfully rich seven-part In Nomine by the master.

Later in the evening we heard music arranged for strings from his 1683 Ode To St Cecilia: the overture and the soprano aria Here The Deities Approve, in which Truscott played the solo part with idiomatic Baroque poise over a classic Purcellian ground bass on cello and theorbo [a member of the lute family], while the ensemble took the chorus parts. Purcell’s ingenuity was again on display in his Fantasy On One Note.

The Ensemble had opted to present the music in two seamless sequences, and the sustained ‘one note’ of the Purcell, morphed magically into the opening note of the Adagio of Beethoven’s opus 132 String Quartet.

This other-worldly movement, labelled by the composer the Hymn Of Thanks, is among Beethoven’s most sublime utterances, and in Iain Farrington’s arrangement for string orchestra and exquisitely played by the Ensemble it was for me the highlight of the evening.

In the first half, the front desk players had stepped forward to give us a wonderfully intimate account of the Adagio from Brahms’ Second String Quintet, while a set of Balletti Lamentabili by the 17th-century Austrian composer Heinrich Biber, proved to be mercifully less dolorous than the title suggested.

You will however detect an emerging theme, and the only contemporary music in the programme, the curiously amorphous, glissando-ridden Four Marys by Julia Wolfe, and an arrangement of Schubert’s Lied Der Leiermann, the bleakest number from his bleakest song-cycle Winterreise, did little to lift the spirits.

As I have suggested, the second half was a deal more upbeat, concluding with a wonderfully funky anonymous six-part Elizabethan In Nomine.

In response to an enthusiastic ovation, the Ensemble returned to Purcell for A Scots Tune, introduced in best ceilidh style by Alastair Savage, before the whole ensemble took it up in the manner of a Fiddlers’ Rally.

It made a toe-tapping conclusion to a slightly random evening, which had both plumbed the depths and scaled the heights! D James Ross

On Friday, the Gould Piano Trio with Robert Plane will play Fauré’s Piano Trio in D minor, op120, Huw Watkins’ Four Fables and Messiaen Quartet for The End of Time. The concert will start at 7.30pm at Inverness Town House. Ticket info here: musicinverness.net/get-tickets

Music Inverness's first event of next year is on January 20.

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