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Review - Nocturnal

Updated: Oct 30, 2021

First published in The Herald on 4 November, 2015

Classical music is generally yonks behind other performance arts when it comes to the visuals of staging. Houselights are kept blindingly bright during concerts; musicians walk and bow and sit and dress according to rituals invented generations ago. Sometimes those rituals feel right and noble, but it doesn’t take much to shake things up. In a space as innately beautiful as Cottiers — the former Dowanhill Church, resplendent with Daniel Cottier stained glass and wallpaper — all we really needed was permission to look.

Nocturnal is a beautifully conceived project from cellist Sonia Cromarty and violinist Alice Rickards exploring the sound (and sight) of darkness and night. Last year the same pair — who perform under the moniker High Heels and Horsehair — commissioned a vivid collection of new work inspired by the botany of Scottish wildflowers. Clearly they’ve an intuition for programme concepts that set the imagination spinning.

The music began in the dark, audience seated around a low stage, and over the next 50 hushed minutes lighting designer Kai Fischer did sensitive, simple things to illuminate marvellous corners of paintwork or just the two women and their music. The big coup repertoire-wise was a commission by Judith Weir called Night, which muses gently if underwhelmingly on the physicality of soft sounds: fingers on wood, bow on string. The concert ended with Martin Suckling’s Nocturne — a brief, finely-crafted piece in which lines unwind in sinewy unison until the violin drifts off as if in a dream. In between we heard the Annunciation from Biber’s Mystery Sonatas, a canon from Bach’s The Art of Fugue, a Schnittke miniature called Stille Musik and a lyrical, restive cello elegy called Gala Water by Sally Beamish. Cromarty and Rickards performed with nuance and composure, both of them unshowy and deeply musical players.

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