Classical Music Series – Sep to Oct 2008 – Glasgow University

Harry Akehurst

Running quietly alongside the new academic year is 2008-09’s Music in the University programme, a series of concerts from high-profile performers, both classical and contemporary. If it sounds like some musty anachronism then you should read on – actually, it’s quite something.

On the 25th of September the Edinburgh and Alba string quartets joined forces in our own concert hall to recite Mendelssohn’s Octet: composed for the eight players as two distinct, interacting quartets this showcased Scotland’s two premier string quartets as an exhilarating introduction to the programme.

The drama took off with swelling syncopation, diving in and out of unison and swooping through the full dynamic range of  a full orchestra. The middle scherzo was treated with the slight increase in subtlety its detail requires, but positively blossomed playfulness, both quartets obviously enjoying the performance.

The final presto was delivered at full pace, the accompaniment approaching with train-like momentum, suddenly breaking out over the audience in all directions, with exquisite melodic interplay ricocheting off the walls. It was played as an adventure, all classical stagnancy skimmed and discarded, and so it sounded one too.

A week later Graeme McNaught played a programme of Schubert on one of the concert hall’s two spectacular Steinway concert grand pianos.  McNaught’s programme, including piano arrangements of two songs (‘An die Musik’ and ‘Der Leiermann’) and the complete sonata in B flat major, powerfully demonstrated his expressive abilities.

The first piece was restrained, with delicately modelled rubato for the fragmented melody. The second song unleashed triplets, violent dynamics and scales so deft they might have been glissandi – at once both precise and emotional.

The sonata enters less familiar territory, and McNaught proceeded almost over-cautiously through less standard classical modes: rippling dynamics, startling sforzandos and false cadences lie concealed throughout the work, all of which were, however, executed immaculately.

Last week’s lunchtime performance was from the winners of the Glasgow Music Festival: Alison Turriff, a rising star of the clarinet, and Gary Blair, a precocious accordion player.

Accompanied by piano from a very able Claire Haslin, Turriff played a delightful French-tinged set, full of tangy contemporary melodies and showy interplay between the clarinet and piano. Silences and abrupt awakenings from dream-like harmonic developments meant that the pieces could have distracted from their actual performance: she did well to beat the profile of her pieces.

Gary Blair opened with a high-speed Scottish medley, setting the scene well for his set. His selection lacked the harmonic maturity of Turriff’s clarinet pieces, but the set, particularly its closing piece,  Monti’s ‘Czardas’ – a speed showcase on any instrument – was played with great confidence.

Classical music, however, is not the whole deal. Already a violin and electronics blacked out the windows and decked out the concert hall with lasers; on the 23rd Emma Pollock of the Delgados will perform. The programme ranges from classical guitar to ‘audiovisual sculptures’.

Although the concerts are well attended by staff and members of the public, the programme’s director Ms Anne Cumberland would like to see more students from beyond the music department. I advise you not to bother checking what’s on, but simply to wander into the main building at 1.00 on a Thursday, follow the signs and see what you find.


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