Category Archives: Music

The Fringe at St Mary’s Cathedral, Royal Scottish Academy of Music Lunchtime Concerts, August 8 – 26th, 1.20pm, 40 mins free

Enjoy Scotland’s professionals from the RSAMD: a different combination of instruments or voices daily, with varied classical programmes.

Tuesday 23 August, Julia Somerville (harp) and Lee Holland (flute).  This was a wonderful, relaxing, most enjoyable way of spending forty minutes.  The ambience is just so amazing it relieves all the hustle and bustle that’s going on outside into this wonderful world of classical music, with fantastic young musicians.  Thank you for a truly wonderful forty minutes.

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The Rat Pack – Live, Edinburgh College of Art, August 18 2011, 2120hrs

An excellent interpretation of the Rat Pack from three fine-looking, talented young men.  The three move smoothly and pretty effortlessly through their songs and routines, particularly the Frank Sinatra character.

The three female backers are less talented but add a touch of glamour – the accompanying jazz band is proficient but very loud so we had to remove hearing aids.

Organisation at the venue was poor (Beware the dragon at the door!)  Having been ordered out to the bar area within 15 minutes of commencement of the performance, once permitted entry we were held up while ticket tearing was executed – could have been done in 15 minute wait.

For Rat Pack music lovers this is a good, cheery performance – we could have enjoyed a further 55 minutes.

Xuefei Yang, Classical Guitarist, Queen’s Hall 16 August 2011

A very slender, young, elegant Chinese woman glided on stage carrying her guitar and sat down on a low stool.  Four spot lights trained on her as she began to play.  The music was quiet and her fingers seem to flutter over the strings, hardly seeming to touch them and yet there was strength in her hands as she played the guitar with great feeling and understanding.

Xuefei Yang was born in Beijing.  She was the first guitarist in China to enter a music school and the first Chinese student to study in the West, winning a post-graduate scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, London.  She is now based in the UK and has performed in over 40 countries in recitals and with leading orchestras.

This year, the Edinburgh Festival’s focus is on drama, music and art from Asia and her programme mirrored this, having Oriental music but also including music composed for the Spanish guitar.

I have heard Chinese music before and found it very different to what I was used to, but was pleased to find this music very ‘listenable’.  She had arranged some of the music herself.  One piece, called ‘The Chinese Garden’, based on Chinese folksongs, had been commissioned by her and composed by Stephen Goss, who was in the audience and was invited on stage to take a bow.  She also played a piece written for Julian Bream by a Japanese composer.  I wasn’t so keen on that, it reminded me of modern jazz which I don’t really understand.

The Oriental pieces seemed almost delicate in comparison to the rhythm and beat of the music of Albeniz, Rodrigo and De Falla written for the Spanish guitar, which she played with great strength and verve and passion.  She played music by Rodrigo at her Spanish debut at the age of 14 and was unaware that he was in the audience.

The recital ended with a virtuoso performance of ‘Variations on the Carnival of Venice’ to enthusiastic applause. After several returns to the stage to take bows she played a couple of encores – the tango ‘La Campercita’ and another of her favourite Spanish melodies.

The music was lovely and I could hear it without any bother, but although she spoke perfect English, I had a problem hearing her when she spoke in between playing as there was no microphone.  However, that did not spoil my pleasure in the music.  It was a bit of a shock after such a warm, relaxing feeling to go out into the rain and noise of Edinburgh

REED TALK HOT CHOCOLATE AT 10. OLD ST PAUL’S CHURCH, 16 AUG 2011

Calum Robertson, Fraser Langton and John Kitchen were all stars in this line up of jazz-free clarinet music with piano accompaniment.  A basset horn and bass clarinet extended the repertoire as well as the ‘intrigue factor’.  The warm up welcome with a cup of sublime hot chocolate was in marked contrast to the ark-like conditions outside.

The programme for the night kicked off in big style with the very punchy ‘Presto’ from a Concert piece by Mendelssohn.  The greased lightning finger work by the duo in Allegro grazioso had us clapping enthusiastically.  This heralded a youthful, vibrant and energetic night on the reeds and ivories.  The skills base of the three players reads like an essay on diplomatosis – Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama First Class Degrees, several prizes, apprenticeships with various top range orchestras nationally and freelancing – to state but a few.  No doubt there will have been hundreds and hundreds of hours of painstaking practice put into getting where they are.  This was a lesson in humility for the listener.  Words escaped me in describing the sheer precision of the clipped and slurred notes in Poulenc’s pieces.  The amusingly titled and contemporary ‘Twitch’ (by Tim Miles) was a composition that reminded us of that most quintessential of British hobbies – bird watching.  Calum could make the clarinet twitter, warble, honk and shriek shrill notes -just like birds.  From among the reeds came ‘Reed talk’ – a contemporary masterpiece from Rory Boyle – that spanned at least a couple of yards of music script and 3 music stands each!  A great sense of humour here!  John K gave us some Keyboard variations by Dussek whilst the boys had a well deserved pause before their final 3 tunes.

There were several very young members of the audience who were enchanted as well as being brilliantly behaved.  You were very welcome!  We overran by 5 mins, so no encore, much to our disappointment. Tough luck to those music lovers who missed this evening – if Calum’s gran says it will be good, then it will be fantastic.  Rainy weather is no excuse.

ORGAN – ANCIENT AND MODERN – HOT CHOCOLATE AT 10. OLD ST PAUL’S CHURCH 12 Aug 2011 10pm.

John Kitchen, an esteemed city organist who is very well known in the Edinburgh classical music scene, promised us, a seventy strong audience, a very enjoyable performance as part of the Hot Chocolate Series of classical concerts organised by this venue.  The organisers certainly have pulled out all the stops in procuring performers with the highest of musical talents.  John excelled with his usual perfection regarding his choice of pieces for the night.

The chocolate drink was a perfect prelude for the series of toccatas by Buxtehude, Sweelinck, Leighton and Maxim.  The very well known traditional composers, Bach and Parry, featured as well.  The very gentle and expressive Toccata secundi toni by Sweelinck contrasted with Françaix’ Mère Marie de Saint-Augustin – a ‘larger than life’ piece of music that was rather ‘tongue in cheek’ for the normally rather staid appreciators of classical organ music.  Dr Kitchen was obviously enjoying bringing this wonderful choice of relaxing compositions to us.  It was such a pity that the organist was tucked away at the console, hidden away from the audience.  The sheer confidence, skill and knowledge of the performer were reflected in his much understated introductions of the pieces.

A hearing loop system cannot do such a performance justice.  One has to sit in the listening space, concentrate and just let the ambience soak into the auditory senses.  To appreciate the quieter parts, sitting very near the front was the place to be because the organ pipes were located in the chancel.  The large repertoire of the pipe organ and the absence of lyrics can be useful for ‘listening training’ and relaxation in what can often be a stressful time for the moderately deaf – just trying to hear.  How about forgetting the lyrics of song and reading subtitles and just come along to some relaxing classical music and let the senses drift?

FAURĒ REQUIEM BY ST ANDREW CAMERATA. OLD ST PAUL’S CHURCH, JEFFREY ST. Aug 13th 2011 at 10pm.

This, the first of this year’s two performances was a sell out.  Vincent Wallace has conducted this well-loved Requiem Mass setting at the Fringe since 2006.  The thirty-strong choir, accompanied by 10 instrumentalists, performed this sombre and understated work.

This humble masterpiece was composed by Fauré in 1887 with the intention of escaping from what was thought right and proper with regard to death.  His unassuming words, “My Requiem was composed for nothing…. for fun, if I may be permitted to say so!” were made a decade after he wrote the Requiem.

St Andrew Camerata performed the whole setting with serious interpretation.  Precise choral direction by Vincent Wallace meant that the echoes of silence in between movements cocooned an utterly still and reverent audience.  There was no flickering of the hundreds of candle flames that graced the interior of this serene and peaceful gem of a church. We were spell bound!  Not one rustle of paper, nor the creak of a wooden chair – otherwise it would have been sacrilege.  Ivor Klayman sung his baritone solo to great effect in the Judgement Day movement (Libera me).

This choral canon is firmly fixed on the Fringe ‘must do’ list for all classical lovers of music, both secular and religious.  It looks its ethereal beauty will be in great demand again next year.  If there is any therapy needed for today’s spiritual distemper; this has to be it.  There is no fear of death according to this great composer; however, the return of the St Andrew Camerata to Old St Paul’s next year will mean we will be happy.

Pure Brass Quintet HOT CHOCOLATE AT 10. OLD ST PAUL’S CHURCH 11 Aug 2011 10pm

A wee cup of delicious hot chocolate, topped with cream and a ‘sugar high’ whetted our appetites for a stunning candle-lit performance.  The five guys, attired in suits reminiscent of the ‘city’, had personalities as different as their coloured ties.  Their playing styles were as vibrant as the pieces they had selected for us at ‘this gig’.  The word ‘gig’ is a far cry from the professionalism and experience that punctuated their varied repertoire.

Forget Yorkshire brass bands and Coronation Street; these guys brought to us an international mix of military, Scottish folk, experimental and 1900s pre-jazz rag music.  The varied hour-long programme was a joy that resonated with the audience of around a hundred.  The organisers of this series, with their classical music contacts, continue to excel with their choice of performers.  The concert started bang on time.  Wit and humour shone through in the introductions by the different performers.  Onomatopoeic words could not even start to describe Fraser’s rendition of all manner of intriguing sounds using his tuba!  Baadsvik’s ‘Fnugg’ (meaning small and weightless), containing elements of the Australian Aboriginal rhythm (think didgeridoo), was executed with great aplomb by Fraser.  I could have sworn I heard something of the Wagneresque Ring Cycle and Strauss too.  Deep and reverberating notes provided the most wonderful base for the 2 trumpets in ‘Quintet’ by Kamen.  ‘Super Guy’, an unusual title, was a piece that led the audience down surprising avenues.  ‘12th Street Rag’ had us tapping our feet to the syncopated melodies -harking back to the ragtime era pre 1920s (think ‘Entertainer’ and Louis Armstrong).  What a repertoire – we loved it.

This well polished, crisp and at times, resonating treat came to an end way too soon.  It was just as well it was bed time, for we could have stayed for more.