Scottish Ensemble with “Elemental” featuring Aidan O’ Rourke and Kit Downes brought to the stage at Assembly Roxy Edinburgh one of the most intriguing musical projects that I have reviewed this year.
The title of this project, “Elemental” gives a big clue to the music of the evening, but here, set against a loose framing backdrop of inspiration from a poem, Edwin Morgan's “Slate”, we explore in sound and music the very elemental sounds of nature and her elemental forces whilst at the same time playing with space and time.
Scottish Ensemble are always pushing the boundaries of what you might expect a string ensemble to perform and that is why I like them so much, there is always that element of the unexpected to their programme and “Elemental” carries on that tradition of musical exploration. Here, the Scottish Ensemble with Aidan O’Rourke (fiddle), Kit Downes (piano/harmonium) and guest director Simon Blendis (violin) take on new and older works of unique vision as well as a new composition by Aidan and Kit – “There is No Beginning”.
Sound as a force of nature itself is a vital part of this programme, and with some very instructive introductions from Simon Blendis, we explore music that takes single notes and “explodes” them into life along with a new composition by Dave Fennessy (Hirta Rounds)that evokes the “elemental” nature of St Kilda in a composition that uses only open strings and natural harmonics (with the exception of one note). There is always something very “timeless” about hearing a natural harmonic played on a perfectly tuned stringed instrument.
Time itself is also “played with” here in musical structures that are “different” from traditional approaches to composition.
Aidan O’Rourke and Kit Downes are intriguing composers and their new work created for this project fuses Aidan’s traditional Celtic roots with elements of jazz, folk, ambient and classical.
If there was a story in music that was a poignant reflection on our world’s perilous state then it was from Kit Downes and his tribute to the last white rhino, in “Last Leviathan”. The real power of this work is its sadness, and the sad fact that this song ever had to be created in the first place as a lament to such a wonderful creation of nature.
Sometimes, some works just defy the very subjective use of a star rating system, and this is one of them, so here I choose not to do so and just let this wonderful music speak for itself. Like the elemental forces all around us, this work cannot be simply defined, and certainly not be “review stars”.
Review by Tom King