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Review: Classical: Red Note Ensemble St Andrew's, London 32/40

July 16, 2014

Guy Dammann

I first heard Scotland's contemporary music group the Red Note Ensemble in an excellent concert at last year's Huddersfield festival. Their latest appearance, with a conservative but interesting programme at the City of London festival, confirms that they are a special group of musicians indeed. Performing John Adams's Shaker Loops they displayed finesse, sensitivity and a concentrated energy that made the music rip through the air like a rocket burning through the Earth's atmosphere.

Their path along the work's exhilarating emotional trajectory was superbly judged. The first movement's ricocheting figures had a fleetness and joy that reminded me why the piece is one of Adams's most successful, while the penultimate movement's rollicking climax brought a sense of deep terror, flecked with knuckle-whitening exhilaration, such as I've never heard in the work before.

The Adams was preceded by Judith Bingham's new concerto for oboe and string ensemble. The piece is subtitled The Angel of Mons, after a legend about the British Expeditionary Force being saved from the advancing German troops by a mysterious angel, and was played with exquisite sensitivity to its dark, swirling textures by the ensemble and their soloist, Michal Rogalski. The score held the listener rapt through its eerie dramatic sense as well as its deft evocations of the scenario.

The second half heard Bingham's recent The Hythe - loosely based on The Seafarer and equally skilful in balancing natural musical flow with pictorial devices - alongside Barber's Adagio for Strings. Rogalski, a talented young Polish oboist has a diffident stage manner that was no foil for the deep emotions expressed with Vaughan Williams's oboe concerto.

Guy Dammann

City of London festival continues until 17 July. Box office: 0845 120 7502.

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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