In lockdown where rules and practicalities stand in the way of all the musicians performing together, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra has taken the opportunity to give individual players the artistic lead on a series of chamber performances. Repertoire which may have passed by in the ‘old normal’ concert programming has been refocussed as the SCO has divided its players up into elite groups. It is fascinating to hear different repertoire, and exciting to watch musicians not normally in orchestral leadership positions working organically together.

Louise Goodwin
© Scottish Chamber Orchestra

This concert was in the capable hands of percussionist Louise Goodwin who took us on a whirlwind journey through ancient and modern music featuring repeating musical and rhythmic themes. Bookended with Purcell, his Chaconne Z730 was a stately opener, the small string group with Jan Waterfield on harpsichord all sounding sonorously rich in the Perth Concert Hall acoustic, Nikata Naumov’s expressive double bass firmly underpinning this graceful miniature.

Leaping three centuries, Goodwin was joined by Richard Cartlidge for a spirited performance of Reich’s Nagoya Marimbas the two instruments creating an enthralling soundscape of rhythms. Cartlidge set up the theme as Goodwin slowly added notes as if in a childlike game of rhythmic challenge, until we saw the players at opposite ends of their instruments literally diving past each other in a thrilling whirl of marimba mallets. Things calmed down with a soulful performance of Pärt’s Fratres arranged for string quartet and here using clave and bass drum like a liturgical bell between the developing repeated string chords, monastically sparse, making every note count. The string sound began thinly, growing in texture and richness in each iteration, a highlight being Brian Schiele’s mellow viola finally emerging with the theme, a golden crowning moment in a deeply intense mood.

Scottish Chamber Orchestra
© Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Dani Howard wrote her piece Shades for solo percussion and loop pedal based on graffiti in her London street. Goodwin set out energetic rhythms on her vibraphone using both ends of the mallets adding textures from drums, block and cymbal over a looped playback which all built into a rhythmic tapestry, Goodwin a hectic flurry as the piece built to a multi-layered conclusion.

The heart of the performance was Dutch composer, Louis Andriessen’s Worker’s Union, written for any group of players with loud instruments. Players are given no key, no melody or defined pitches – they choose a note to start on and take instructions from there. What saves the piece from descending into total chaos is the rhythmic unison which is ever changing and incessant. Andriessen’s instructions are to make the piece sound dissonant, chromatic and often aggressive. Here, the group of strings, harpsichord and percussion took us on a 20-minute exhilarating roller coaster ride of loud and driving unpredictable rhythms which demanded fierce concentration from the players. It is a political work as individual musicians know what to say, but only by coming together can they make an impact. It was fascinating to watch the piece develop, the harpsichord’s use as a percussion instrument, the players a picture of commitment and attention with violinist Gordon Bragg’s giveaway grins spreading infectious enjoyment. There was no audience to applaud, but the cameras stayed on the players long enough for a bout of elated laughter like athletes relaxing at the end of a race.

Finally, Purcell’s Fantasia in D major “Three parts upon a Ground” took us back to the ancient, three violins intertwining themes over repeated bass lines in cello and double bass, Jan Waterfield’s harpsichord adding ornamentation and colour.

With musicians taken largely from within the orchestral ranks – here three second violins in the spotlight – and with no conductor, it was fun to spot who was taking the lead in each piece. We can’t wait to hear the full orchestra and chorus in the concert hall, but the artistic path taken by the SCO is a shining positive for now. Production values from the sound and video team were excellent.

This performance was reviewed from the SCO's video stream