The recital was given by two young musicians, Katrina Lee and Alice Allen, of the highest calibre who have won numerous awards, both in Scotland and abroad. This was one of 11 concerts in a 12-day tour – a remarkable challenge in itself. Whilst in past centuries the violin/cello duo was not uncommon, it disappeared for a time and is now coming back into vogue. I was eager to hear the duo playing the modern pieces they had chosen, none of which I knew.
All the works played were technically highly demanding, but also needed much sensitivity in the range. The first piece, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, was composed by the cellist Duncan Strachan of the Maxwell Quartet. The duo’s performance was convincing, and they came across remarkably well. This was an atmospheric rendition of blackbird singing. It started with audio recordings that led well into interpretations that followed. I would not fault their playing, but the piece did not convey to me much that I love of blackbird songs. These are wonderful and quite shrill statements of harmonies in a major key, with seldom if ever a repeat of the same line – a truly remarkable bird. The audio at the end tried to capture this singing, but contained mostly a repetitive short phrase, unlike that of the resident blackbird in my garden.
This was followed by a composition from Edmund Finnis, which was a lesson in bow control, especially light bowing. It was an “off the cuff” composition, short and to the point, although not particularly appealing, called simply “Sister”.
The second half of the concert dwelt on two outstanding female composers of our time. The first works were remarkable and very enjoyable performances of Rebecca Clarke’s “Lullaby” and “Grotesque” that demonstrated the duo’s skill in coordination and synchrony. They are neoclassical works in style that appealed to me and clearly entranced the rest of the audience – I must hear them again! As the titles suggest, the two works were in stark contrast.
The final piece by Sally Beamish, Stone, Salt and Sky was in three movements called “Processional, Horizon and Harbour Blues”, a wonderful and interesting musical interpretation of feeling when on Orkney – a mystical magical island. It started with rhythmical stomping to the Scottish mode. The second movement reminded me so much of standing in the middle of Orkney on a clear day looking at a panoramic landscape that enveloped you in an eerie silence, to the point when you thought it was only your own mind that provided the faint musical background, but was perhaps more appropriately the distant hum of the wind. Finally, and once again in sharp contrast, the last movement was about the sea harbour, the choppiness of the water, and the jazz element that brought music from elsewhere in line with what Scots like to hear.
As a conclusion, this was a well-chosen composition to round off a delightful evening from two young and highly accomplished musicians. May their efforts prosper in entertaining us and others so charmingly, which they certainly did before a highly appreciative audience, who also enjoyed the short strathspey and reel played as an encore.