Luminate: Live Music Now Scotland celebrates 30 Years (4 stars)

Compilation album features music by Eddie McGuire, William Sweeney, Alasdair Nicolson, Wildings and Spencer-Strachan Duo

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Luminate: Live Music Now Scotland Celebrates 30 Years

Delphian Records

Live Music Now might not be an organisation whose name is on everyone’s lips – more’s the pity. Likewise, it’s all too easy to ignore those in society who have little contact with live music – which is what LMN sets out to set right, taking emerging musicians into prisons, care homes, hospitals, hospices and small-scale, far-flung recital halls to give informal performances in the community; in the words of violinist Yehudi Menuhin, who founded LMN in 1977 (LMN Scotland followed in 1984), to provide music that might ‘comfort, heal and bring delight’.

Live Music Now Scotland also has a long history of commissioning new music from contemporary composers – which is where this enjoyable new compilation CD comes in, bringing together a handful of LMNS’s recent commissions to celebrate the organisation’s 30th anniversary in 2014.

It’s a fascinating snapshot of contemporary classical music in Scotland, but one that’s inevitably skewed towards the easier-on-the-ear end of new music rather than more experimental works that challenge or provoke. Eddie McGuire’s opening 'Dance Suite for Two', for example, is a beautifully crafted set of miniatures for violin and cello, but it’s pleasant rather than particularly striking. Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine a more committed, articulate performance than the warm-hearted, enthusiastic account given by violinist Rachel Spencer and cellist Duncan Strachan.

William Sweeney’s *Luminate: From the Islands* was jointly commissioned in 2013 by LMNS and the Luminate creative ageing festival, and given the disarming effectiveness of the composer’s evocations of mood and place in ‘Tiree’, ‘Islay’ and ‘Iona’, and his glowing harmonies and radiant textures, it’s a shame to hear only three of the work’s five songs. Soprano Emma Versteeg gives a thoughtful performance, unafraid to linger where Sweeney indicates gentle contemplation, but she’s sometimes overshadowed by the over-assertive pianism of Maryam Sherhan.

John Maxwell Geddes wrote both the music and text for his likeable 'Castle Mills Suite', which concludes the album, and it’s based on the recollections of one of the surviving workers (aged 103) from the North British Rubber Company’s Castle Mills factory in Edinburgh. Again, there’s a radiant simplicity to his songs, with folk-like melodies undercut by expressive ‘wrong’ notes and unexpected harmonic twists, and Laura Margaret Smith delivers them with a fine, rich mezzo and strong support from pianist Geoffrey Tanti.

The album’s two highlights, though, come in the middle. There’s a raw, sometimes unsettling lyricism to the 'Second String Quartet, The Keeper of Sheep', by Inverness-born Alasdair Nicolson, whose five short movements send tendrils of melody groping for connection, or conjure magical clouds of harmonics, or pit aggressive rhythms against each other. It’s a remarkable, bold work, unafraid to be sparse and simple yet with not a note out of place, and it gets a quietly commanding performance from the Astrid Quartet. Ensemble may go slightly awry in the second and fifth movements’ unpredictable rhythms, but they still have the measure of the work and play with enormous energy and spirit.

It’s the most complex, dissonant, challenging music on the album, and it’s followed – quite startlingly – by the gentle, soft-edged 'Bellany Suite' from folk trio Wildings, based around paintings by John Bellany and setting traditional tunes in a tender, contemporary context. There’s a gentle sway and a natural, unforced directness to the threesome’s playing that makes it immediately appealing. Their music might stand out among the album’s otherwise classical sounds, but it also serves to highlight the breadth of LMNS’s reach, as well as the supple creativity of the organisation’s young musicians.

Luminate: Live Music Now Scotland celebrates 30 years is out now, on Delphian Records

Spencer-Strachan Duo

Violinist Rachel Spencer and cellist Duncan Strachan in recital.

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