Strathearn Music Society 50th Anniversary Concert - Scottish Ensemble

Last Saturday, fifty years to the exact day since the then Strathearn Arts Guild put on its first concert (in Academy Hall) the Strathearn Music Society celebrated its significant birthday in exceptional style by inviting the Scottish Ensemble to perform in Crieff Parish Church.

Hard to believe that the SE itself is only three years off its own half-century. Tracing its roots back to Leonard Friedman’s Scottish Baroque Ensemble of 1969, the group is now firmly established at the front rank of music-making in the UK and is in fact our only professional string orchestra. A busy schedule (covering the length of Britain as well as much of Northern Europe over the next few months) fortunately permitted the members to fit in this visit to Crieff where, amongst the many familiar faces on stage, many folk must have been especially delighted to see Clio Gould (Artistic Director of the Ensemble from 1993 to 2005) plainly enjoying a stint on second fiddle in a brief and presumably temporary return to the ranks.

The Ensemble’s character and sound now derive largely from its current Director Jonathan Morton, who plainly inspires not only the commitment and enjoyment of his players but also the total involvement of their listeners. Let us call it “prepared spontaneity”, that feeling at the beginning of every concert, piece, movement, (bar?) which makes you shift that little bit closer to the edge of your seat just in case you miss something. If there’s a slightly, subtly more interesting and engaging way of doing things then it will be heard at a Scottish Ensemble concert, where crystal-clear textures, a floor-to-ceiling dynamic range and impeccable musical intelligence are the accepted norm and where on-stage solemnity is swept away by the ready smile on every face.

This concert was entitled “Essential Ensemble” and the programme encapsulated much of what attracts SE audiences in the first place and quickly has them hooked as continuing and loyal supporters of this band, who will always regale us with a mix of the new and the unfamiliar. Two of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, along with Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous Serenade for Strings, formed the backbone of the
evening, with two intensely personal pieces by James MacMillan and a sequence of French miniatures (Fauré, Ravel, Debussy) exquisitely arranged by double bass player James Manson as additional food for thought and novel delight.

Music-making of this calibre simply draws us in as willing and enchanted captives. Pure magic.

(Next SMS concert: The Musicke Companye, Sun 11 Dec at 3.00 pm in St Andrew’s Halls).