Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Jean-Claude Picard – Staffa (4 stars)

Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Jean-Claude Picard – Staffa

credit: Gerry Fox

Heard live at its premiere as part of the 70th Anniversary Celebration Concert marking the close of this year's Edinburgh International Festival, Ned Bigham's Staffa is the title piece of a highly pleasing collection of his orchestral works. Staffa itself, at 11 minutes in duration, is the longest track on the disc. Conceived for full symphony orchestra, celeste and two harps along with film shown across three screens, Staffa also works perfectly well as a stand-alone score, even without Gerry Fox's visuals of images inspired by the island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides, and Fingal's Cave in particular, made famous by Mendelssohn's visit there. Bigham's Staffa may pick up where Mendelssohn's journey left off, but it is, according to Bigham, 'a narrative which draws the audience in and captures the enigmatic aura of the island.' Just as Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture does too.

With the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and conductor Jean-Claude Picard, the drama of the landscape is expertly envisioned, bringing to life the score's elements of seascape, natural environment and extraordinary location. Opening the collection is the jazzy Halmahera, the first of Archipelago Dances Set 1. Lushly lyrical, it is an orchestral tone poem with double piano soloists, the syncopations of the canonic piano parts played with bright vitality by Scottish pianists Lynda Cochrane and Judith Keaney. Kyra– a pavane –is more mysterious and other-worldly, again with lush classic film score-ish string playing from the RSNO. Bigham is an eclectic composer, with a musical career that started as a drummer for Swedish singer-songwriter Neneh Cherry, moved onto co-producing Asian artist Amar's album Outside via electronic experimentation project Anti Atlas. Who knows what he'll be up to next, but Staffa is an album very much worth stopping to listen to along the way.

Out now on Aruna Records.