Review: ‘Prophecy’ / Scottish Ensemble / Karen Cargill / Matthew Trustcott / King’s Place

At fifty years old, the Scottish Ensemble as a brand is five years older than me. It’s tempting to project all sorts of personally held assumptions about how heritage guarantees quality. We make judgments on how we think a concert will be based on the name of the orchestra we see in the advance listings.

But the reality is entirely different. What you hear is the result of the talent present on stage. The brand is (sorry to the management of the Scottish Ensemble) largely irrelevant because the name is nothing more than a marketing construct.

The success of a gig is in very large part down to the person who booked the musicians. That’s where the magic exudes from. Not only their individual talents, but the art created by those talents collaborating with one another.

Under the direction of the ever youthful guest director Matthew Trustcott a lean, supple and nimble group of soloists delivered a rich programme of Stravinsky, Haydn, Berlioz (no, really) and Purcell with grace, spirit, and seemingly effortless poise.

The success of the evening was in no small part down to the collegiate approach the ensemble adopts. On the one hand there’s Matthew Truscott’s inclusive style of direction. On the other, the solid and reliable dynamism of principal second Daniel Pioro. Everyone roots for one another. When solos are complete, colleagues acknowledge one another. That’s a special kind of respect for an audience to observe.

The opening sequence – the first part of Stravinsky’s Apollon musagète – had a muscular sound. Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos that followed with soprano Karen Cargill on stage displayed an agility during the opening recit, but moments of shaky ensemble during the aria that followed gave proceedings a tantalising fragility. Control was quickly regained during the recit and aria after that. Gripping stuff.

A blistering transition featured in the second half moving from the overture to Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas overture to ‘Ah! Ah! Je vais mourir! … Adieu, fière cité’ from Berlioz’s Les Troyens – arresting. That the Scottish Ensemble delivered Ian Farrington’s arrangement of the Berlioz with only twelve players (instead of the usual 36) revealed the mastery of the composer’s orchestrations.

Purcell’s When I am laid in earth was an inevitability, but programming the conclusion of Stravinsky’s Apollon musagète to follow revealed the real magic in this gig (and other concerts like it). Such concert programming borrows the same technique deployed by sophisticated music-loving DJs: playlist generation.  And by adopting that approach the unfamiliar can sometimes be introduced; new insights emerge.

If the superlatives are getting tiresome, then get over yourself. It’s not often I leave a concert bristling with excitement like I did on Friday night. This was one of those events I wish I had invited a great many friends to experience with me. Such is the gamble of live performance.

A very special event. Magical. I adored it.

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