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Reviews / Review: An appetite-whetting musical treat

Clio Gould and Jonathan Morton blasting into the first of three Martinů madrigals - Photo: Chris Brown

For all the gigs the go on in Shetland, classical music seems to be under-represented; jazz, world sounds, rock, country, definitely folk are the staples of Shetland’s musical diet.

Shetland Arts appears to be turning this around by inviting Shetland to gorge itself on the classical offerings of the Scottish Ensemble, with a programme consisting of four gigs; a duo in September, a quintet in February, another duo in April, and the full 12-piece string orchestra in summertime.

Tuesday night’s gig was the starter – Mozart, Madrigals and Mavericks – to whet our appetites for the delights to come; husband and wife duo Jonathan Morton and Clio Gould, playing a violin/viola set that was nothing short of unique. As they walked out, instruments in hand, and put bow-to-strings without so much as a word, the audience realised they were in for something quite special.

The two were facing each other, Clio with three music stands covered in sheet music, Jonathan with one stand, an iPad and a pedal.

As Jonathan used his pedal to turn the sheet music on his iPad (welcome to the future) Clio flicked through the pages; the pair blasted into the first of three Martinů madrigals, playing in perfect time and complete synch with each other- no conductors here. This gave the performance an adversarial effect – as if they were not playing with each other so much as at each other, in some kind of musical duel. The fact they were so incredibly attuned to each other’s playing is a testament to the level of talent onstage.

Stopping for a brief introduction (Jonathan has been to Shetland before, Clio has not), they marched straight into the second and third madrigals, back-to-back (the music, that is, not the performers. They were facing each other, remember?). All the madrigals were rich and varied, flighty and light one moment, and deep and sonorous the next.

‘Madrigals’ being taken care of, the duo moved beside each other and onto ‘Mavericks’; a first-time performance of ‘perfect miniatures’- short extracts from various pieces of music, ranging from a few seconds to a couple of minutes, from the 12th to the 21st century.

They prepared the audience for a light bit of participation (humming) and they were off. The whole 20-minute piece was a selection box of musical delights – classical buffs would have a great time trying to identify the various constituent pieces.

All of them were quite different, fast and boisterous, followed by slow and ghostly, with a sprinkle of pizzicato and – best of all – a bizarre effect where violin and viola were made to sound like pan-pipes or bamboo flutes, and then like a theremin. It was like an audible magic trick.

The pinnacle was when, at a nod from Jonathan, the audience hummed to the note Clio played, bringing the music out from the stage and enveloping the entire crowd – no longer listening to the music, but part of and surrounded by it – and lending it a soft, warming tone. Audience participation is not often seen in classical music – maybe it should be.

After a short interval, the pair finished with – as the title suggests – Mozart. There has been enough written about Mozart’s music, by far more qualified persons, to fill many, many books, and there is little commentary to offer on the music itself. The playing, however, was sublime. Marvellous. Really, really good. It is rare to get to experience musicians of such high calibre as Jonathan and Clio, let alone in Shetland. The Mozart section was truly spell-binding.

The warm wave of applause that rolled over the couple did not subside, but kept rising, drawing them back out for an encore of Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins.

Shetland Arts (with a little help from Inksters Solicitors) has provided a feast of classical music, and if Shetland shows an appetite we may just see more of it.

If this was the starter, then the main course in February is looking to be incredible. A third concert for dessert, with a 12-piece ensemble for brandy-and-cigars afterwards? If it’s all as good as this, we’ll be going back for seconds.

Alex Garrick-Wright

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