21 August, 2009

Festival Blogger review - Made in Scotland

Image: Royal National Scottish Orchestra. Photo: Jean-Philippe Baltel

Last night I saw the Royal Scottish National Orchestra perform Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise and Symphony No 5 and James MacMillan’s Britannia and The Confession of Isobel Gowdie at Usher Hall.

Not familiar with these pieces I went in expecting a very Scottish affair and was surprised by the opening piece, Symphony No 5, which would have been at home on a modern Hollywood film score. It was haunting and ominous, laterfilled with suspense and drama.

The conductor, Paul Daniel, was very energetic and ardent. The orchestra were also a pleasure to watch. As all seemed so passionate about the music they were playing there was a sense of the theatrical.

As expected, An Orkney Wedding brought the Scottish mood I had been expecting. A cheery song from the beginning, it is said to depict a wedding on the Orkney islands and as a Scottish islander myself, I thought it was an accurate portrayal. About half-way through it became even more upbeat and the audience came alive, with many tapping feet and rapping fingers. Then three of the violinists surrounding the conductor began to play fiddle-style as you may see at a Scottish wedding, with slurring brass thrown in to represent the more the musicians and guests drank, this even raised a few laughs from the audience. The piece culminated in a lone piper entering the hall at the back, marching through the audience to take centre stage in front of the conductor, to which you could see many of the audience display proud smiles.

After the break, the third piece, James MacMillan’s Britannia, was energetic from the start. It seemed to veer between an enchanting fairytale to a random, threatening sound. This unusual piece included duck noises, a whistle, a xylophone, horseshoe sounds and a horn, with lots of punctuation from cymbals and a gong.

While the central two pieces seemed quite lighthearted, the last piece went back to something more serious. The Confession of Isobel Gowdie was written about a women burnt at the stake for supposedly being a witch in 1662, depicting ‘the mercy and humanity that was denied her in the last days of her life’. The piece started off slowly and became quite menacing, with lots of drumming. Towards the end it became quite beautiful but cut with violent music, said to represent the suffering of innocent women tried as witches.

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening but the highlight for me was definitely An Orkney Wedding, which as clichéd as it sounds filled me full of pride for all things Scottish.

Reviewer: Sarah Jackson

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