As usual the December Concert promoted by Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts offered patrons a feast of Christmas pies with wine or soft drinks to follow a performance which was itself a surprisingly varied musical banquet. It included tasty Scottish delights including two remarkably convincing Scottish settings by the Italian composer Respighi. Two items by Britten celebrated the centenary of the composer’s birth while Mozart, Handel and the Catalan master composer for guitar Fernando Sor also made an appearance in this marvellously eclectic programme.

The recital began with five songs from Colin’s Kisses by the Scottish Composer James Oswald who moved toLondonwhere he became Chamber Composer at the court of George III. All four members of the Dalriada ensemble took part in these settings. Lovely delicate guitar playing from Ian Watt sat at the core of the accompaniments assisted by cellist Laura Sergeant. Paul Livingston added a touch of elegance on violin at the conclusion or introduction of verses filling in where soprano Emily Mitchell was not singing. Emily gave us a full blooded soprano performance though I would have liked to have had the words of the songs in the programme so that I could have followed them in more detail.

Britten’s Six Songs from the Chinese were originally composed for Peter Pears and Julian Bream. Here once again the delicate and colourful writing for the guitar was really special. Several of the songs were the musical equivalents of painted Chinese porcelain – Autumn Winds and The Herd-Boy while the opening song had a touch of the wisdom of the ancient Chinese philosophers:

Don’t help on the big chariot;

                                             You won’t be able to see for dust …..

                                             Don’t think about the sorrows of the world;

                                            You will only load yourself with care.

These delightful songs were followed by another Britten piece arranged for cello and guitar – the attractive miniature, Corpus Christi Carol.

The complete Quartet were back together for Respighi’s wonderfully lively and colourful Scottish Song settings, My Heart is in the Highlands and The Piper of Dundee. All four performers captured the energy and verve of these songs in which Respighi seems to have been inspired by a genuine Scottish muse.

The real highlight of the concert came with the two solo spots by guitar virtuoso Ian Watt. Julian Bream had made the arrangements of the Larghetto and Allegro from Mozart’s Divertimento K229. Watt captured the relaxed spirit of the Larghetto and then in the lively Allegro he made the guitar sing and respond in a variety of tonal textures which shaped the music so nicely. This was followed by Fernando Sor’s Variations on Mozart’s “O Cara Armonia”in which Ian Watt gave a truly spectacular performance.

Handel’s Passacaglia arranged for violin and cello by the Norwegian composer and violinist Johan Halvorsen (1864-1935) was something of a showpiece in which the duet between Paul Livingston and Laura Sergeant let fly into a lively fun-filled duel with the cello coming out the winner.

Emily Mitchell was supported by the other three members of the Ensemble in her silky-smooth performance of Pamina’s aria Ach, ich fühl’s from The Magic Flute and the dazzlingly florid aria, “Myself I shall adore” from Handel’s Semele.

An enthusiastic ovation from the audience elicited a splendid encore – a Scottish song arrangement by Roger Quilter adapted by the members of the Ensemble themselves – Ye Banks and Braes – simple yet a thoroughly captivating conclusion to a wonderfully varied performance.

Ensemble Dalriada Review