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Musicians from The North East of Scotland Music School
NESMS Grand Tour Concert
Alex Riddell (Piano and Clarinet), Laura Smith (Clarinet), Kara Taylor (Cello)
with Colin Sinclair (Piano Accompaniments)
Big Sky Studio, Music Hall, Aberdeen
Saturday 13th July, 2019
Reviewed by Alan Cooper
from a recording supplied by Colin Sinclair

The BIG SKY STUDIO is a large concert room in the Music Hall. There have been two special concerts given there by members of the North East of Scotland Music School. The first of these I was not, unfortunately, able to attend but the pianist, Colin Sinclair, very kindly sent me a recording of the event.

If you proceed along the main corridor on the way to the ground floor entrance of the main hall, you will pass two large doors on your left hand side. The entrance to the Big Sky Studio is through the second of these two doors. It is almost opposite the wide entrance to the cafe and bar on the opposite side of the main corridor. It is clearly marked by a sign on the wall on the left hand side of the door. When you get inside there are free-standing seats ranged in various blocks depending on the event you are about to see. Look up to the roof and you will see a large and very fancy glass dome. Is this why it is called the Big Sky? I don't know.

The NESMS Grand Tour Concert began with Weber's Grand Duo Concertante in Eb Op. 48 for clarinet and piano. It received a lively performance from clarinettist Laura Smith, with piano far more than a mere accompaniment but rather an equally important feature of the work supplied by Colin Sinclair. In this first movement, Allegro con fuoco, leaps and runs in the clarinet part were presented boldly by Laura Smith. In the slower Andante, its long held notes were played with admirable steadiness by Laura who also managed to convey the slightly sad romantic tinges of the music. The final Rondo had fine forward impetus with an easy fluency leading into the exciting coda with its clear incisive runs.

Alex Riddell is also a clarinettist and she was to join Laura Smith later in Mendelssohn's 'Zwei Konzertstüken' (Two Concert Pieces) for two clarinets and piano, but in the second item in the programme Alex appeared as a piano soloist in Béla Bartók's Romanian Folk Dances. There are six dances in the series, with titles like 'Dance with Sticks' or 'On the Spot' (a stamping dance). Alex gave a joyful performance. I particularly enjoyed the fourth dance: 'Hornpipe Dance'.

The next item was Dvorák's Rondo in g minor Op. 94 for cello and piano performed by cellist Kara Taylor and Colin Sinclair. This is a very challenging piece for the cellist — something of a showpiece in fact — ranging over the whole range of the cello.

Kara and Colin played two more pieces for cello and piano, Debussy's short but romantic and colourful Beau Soir in an arrangement by Gretchaninoff and Ravel's Pièce en forme de habanera which had warm-toned and spirited playing from Kara, full of rhythmic panache.

As I have said, Laura was joined by Alex on clarinet along with Colin on piano in Mendelssohn's Two Concert Pieces. The first, in two movements was, in the first, like a vocal duet with a simple piano accompaniment. It was followed by a lively 'chase', as Colin said in his programme note, with all three instruments joining in the fun.

The second of the Concert Pieces had three movements. The first was very rhythmically emphatic, the second featured lovely slow and romantic passages for the two clarinets with almost minimal piano then, in the third, the music took fire in splendid dance-like fashion.

For a review of the second NESMS concert at the Big Sky Studio go to

BIG SKY STUDIO, MUSIC HALL - Saturday 10th August 2019