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Reviews / Perfect way to end successful residency

Scottish Ensemble at Mareel on Saturday night: 'playing was skilled, impeccably synchronised, and musically flawless' - Photo: Chris Brown

EIGHT months, three concerts, one play, several workshops, some jam sessions, one night of cooking in the Carnegie Hall and a pop-up gig in Tesco later, and here we are.

En Rêve – the final concert of both the Scottish Ensemble’s Shetland Season and their four-day residency. So, after all this build up, did the ensemble manage to end on a high?

Of course they did.

The Scottish Ensemble isn’t in the business of messing up. As per usual, the playing was skilled, impeccably synchronised, and musically flawless. It was never really on the cards that they would fail now.

At the end of days of playing in and around Shetland, bringing classical music to the general public (and the fruit and veg aisle), the ensemble were on fine form as they took to Mareel’s stage for the last time this season, sponsored as ever by Inksters Solicitors. The crowd was larger than any of the ensemble’s previous concerts, so their antics across the isles must have won over a few converts.

Right from the off it was apparent that this was an evening for music, not talking. The first half, a series of special string arrangements of short French pieces, was launched into without so much as a by-your-leave.

The concert began with two movements of a Ravel quartet, a wistful and gently sad piece that was an unusually subdued choice of opener, followed by a jolly, pizzicato-heavy change.

Ensemble leader Jonathan Morton spoke very briefly about the events of the residency, and about how much they had enjoyed returning to Shetland and being able to play to, and with, the community. A quick description of some of the music and it was straight back into it.

The music was a selection-box of arrangements that incurred raucous applause from an extremely engaged audience. Most of the pieces had a melancholy tinge to them, especially Gabriel Fauré’s Apres un rêve, a sad song about lost love, with a cello taking the place of the singer, which worked extremely well.

The most interesting part of the first half was easily Debussy’s La Marche de la Pupee de Chiffon. This jaunty southern-inspired number was written as a ‘cakewalk’- a kind of exaggerated dance performed by American slaves to mock plantation owners, named for the fact that winners of cakewalk contests traditionally won a cake.

So it’s a dessert-driven satirical slave dance, in essence. It was fun, upbeat and easy to imagine the ridiculous dance that would accompany it.

Following a brief interval, the audience was again thrown straight into Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings (Op. 48), a favourite of the ensemble and full of variety. Starting fast and delicate, it soon moved through stages of soft, lulling relaxation and quick, rushed excitement. As this is a piece that the ensemble has played so many times before, they nailed it effortlessly; not a single note out of place. That the Scottish Ensemble plays sublimely is almost not worth commenting on.

After a ridiculously long applause – during which the ensemble had to bow at least five times, first out of politeness, and then in a futile effort to stop the clapping – the true high point of the night was revealed.

“Would you like another one?” Jonathan asked. The crowd responded loudly.

Violinist Donald Grant stepped up to introduce a piece he had composed for a friend’s highland wedding. It was beautiful, seriously beautiful. Soft and ethereal to start with, and swelling into this heavily Scottish, passionate piece that ended with the delicacy and fragility of a glass butterfly. The last notes were delivered to the utter silence of an audience in rapture, followed by a brief moment of nothingness before an explosion of applause.

This was, by popular opinion, the best piece of the night by a considerable margin, and would undoubtedly overshadowed the rest had it come any earlier in the concert. As an encore, however, it was the perfect way to end the season memorably.

If anything, the lack of talking to punctuate the pieces made the experience seem to move faster than it really did, leaving a feeling that it was over too soon.

Shetland News caught up with Jonathan after the show: “It’s been building up nicely over the last year, I was very happy with it.

“It’s important to feed on the energy of the crowd, and the audience tonight were really responsive, it was such a good experience.”

While this may be the end of the ensemble’s Shetland Season, there are already ideas of a return floating around – watch this space. As for now, En Rêve provided a fitting end to a strong series. Bravo.

Alex Garrick-Wright