Friday, August 24, 2012

A trip worth making

I've been doing a bit of gadding this week. Two visits in three days to the Edinburgh Festival leaves this west coast resident a tad shattered, but before the madness of Cowal Games takes over (we usually escape, but that's another story) I felt the need to mention the concerts we attended. They were teatime affairs, an hour or so in the Kirk of the Greyfriars leaving the city-dwellers time to get to another concert and the migrants to catch the last ferry home. One was chosen on the basis of my preferences, the other for Mr B. The first was the wonderful Ricercar Consort performing Purcell and Blow, with the most stunning countertenor singing I've heard from Robin Blaze and Carlos Mena. I think I had a silly grin on my face for most of the hour, and the packed audience erupted in applause and foot-stamping at the end.

I was less sure I would enjoy the next concert, the world premiere of James MacMillan's Since it was the day of Preparation, performed by the Hebrides Ensemble and Synergy Vocals, but I need not have worried. You can find out about the piece itself through the video link above, but I'm interested right now in my own reaction to it. For a start, I wondered how much it mattered to me that not only the story but also the actual words were so familiar to me - and not just familiar, but important. John's Gospel account of the burial and resurrection of Christ triggers a movie in my head, one that ran gratefully with the music as accompaniment - would a piece based on Hindu scriptures have had the same impact? Throughout, I enjoyed the plainsong-like line of the narration - and then, during the final of several instrumental meditations, I was electrified to realise that the solo horn was playing fragments of the Exultet - this in a prolonged conclusion to the story that ends with the words "were every one of (the other things that Jesus did) to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." The horn music kept disintegrating into incoherent burblings, even into barely audible puffs of air over the mouthpiece, so for someone who has sung the Exultet several times these phrases threw up an interesting train of thought - something along the lines that the Resurrection is a mystery that defies definition, but that nevertheless produces exultation.

The performance was wonderful. The singing was flawless, the instrumental music likewise. I loved the handbells (tapped, not rung, for the most part) as Christus sang, and the staging that had the tenor open the piece from halfway down the church. I'd have to hear it again to know how far it works for me as a purely musical experience - would I even hear the horn sighing, or the pianissimo cello, or would I wonder if something had gone wrong? - but I joined with everyone else in that (again) packed audience in rapturous applause at the end.

It had been worth the effort - even if we did have to wait 45 minutes for the last ferry.

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