Review: Music at Paxton, Maxwell Quartet, Old Parish Church, Kelso

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Music at Paxton

Maxwell Quartet

Old Parish Church, Kelso

Keith Bruce

three stars

WHILE Paxton House’s Picture Gallery is assuredly a perfect place to listen to music, the event is reaching out beyond its home venue and usual fare in partnership with Live Music Now and Kelso Music Society. The Enterprise Music Scotland-supported local year-round promoter is so on-the-ball that its upcoming season includes a Spring date by BBC Proms piano sensation Yeol Eum Son, and the venue at which she will appear was where Paxton’s Associate Ensemble, the Maxwell Quartet, gave a Family Concert on Saturday afternoon.

Whether it was a consequence of the bearded hipsters’ all-male line-up or not, boys outnumbered girls by a factor of about two-to-one in the relatively small number of primary age listeners in the audience, and it would be fair to say that all that lads were not always engaged during the show.

None of the blame for that should lie at the door of the music, which ranged through Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Debussy and Shostakovich, with excursions into contemporary Scottish composition and traditional folk music – rarely as specifically introduced, oddly – as is the group’s signature style.

That sequence perhaps tried to tell too many stories all at once, from the genesis and working of a string quartet to the parallel history of composition in different parts of Europe, to the emotional language of how music communicates, but it was also the case that cellist Duncan Strachan and violist Elliott Perks were guilty of using vocabulary unlikely to be instantly understood by their target ears. Something rather more carefully scripted would have helped the structure of the concert, with verbal improvisation explaining matters like the necessity of tuning.

Live Music Now’s contribution to the Paxton programme included the Orcadian duo of Graham Rorie and Aidan Moodie in the Marquee in Paxton’s gardens later the same afternoon. The core of trad quartet Gnoss, and graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, they are a highly engaging pair whose repertoire includes gags about tuning up as well as international folk tunes learned from Sam Amidon and Anais Mitchell.

Rorie’s own fiddle tune The Peeriefool will surely become a staple in the education of the next generation of young players of the instrument in the Orkney islands, and his mandolin additions to Moodie’s reading of Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright) were vital to the singer and guitarist’s very fresh cover of the song.

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