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In Royal Scottish National Orchestra debut, Lark brings fire to new bluegrass-inspired concerto

It’s wonderful to see our national orchestras let their hair down and get stuck into the mixed genre spirit of Celtic Connections, but the success of that depends largely on the music placed in front of them. This pairing of Phamie Gow’s musical travelogue Lammermuir (the subject of her 2001 second album) with American fusionist Michael Torke’s violin concerto Sky highlighted that point.

The orchestra was the splendid RSNO, just back from a criss-cross European tour, who clearly found the action-packed bluegrass-meets-rocket-fuelled-minimalism of Torke’s concerto and the thigh-slapping energy of soloist Tessa Lark’s infectious pizzazz a far more satisfying ride than the modal repetitiveness defining the low-energy moments of Gow’s orchestral backwash.

The focus of Gow’s sequence was the undulating charm of its individual numbers and frontline personalities, not so much its overall cohesion. That seemed its sole purpose: a lilting fiddle number from Alasdair Fraser, the cool breezy lyricism of Jarlath Henderson on uilleann pipes, the breathy voice of Mairi Campbell matched by her brief switch to mellow viola and Gow herself, opening the sequence on harp and guiding the crescendoing finale – The Night Fold – from the piano.

Torke’s Sky was a blast for the entire ensemble, Lark’s foot-stomping opening like an incendiary wake-up call to conductor Teddy Abrams and the RSNO, whose hot-blooded rhythmic interaction lit up every seething moment. There were gorgeous sultry moments, too, in a work that gave everyone on stage the opportunity to shine.

Ken Walton, The Scotsman
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