Scotsman Music Review By Sue Wilson
Published Date: 13 September 2008
JAMES ROSS: CHASING THE SUN Resolis Memorial Hall, Baliblair
Only at the Blas Festival, surely, could you experience the world premiere of an ambitious new cross-media composition, featuring top-class folk and classical artists along with original artwork, in a tiny Highland hall miles from anywhere where a baby grand piano has been trucked in for the occasion.
Commissioned for this year's festival, Chasing the Sun was written by the young Wick-born pianist James Ross, who performed with maverick string quartet Mr McFall's Chamber and Fraser Fifield on soprano saxophone, small pipes and low whistle.
Ross's core concept was that of a journey along Scotland's north coast from Caithness to Sutherland, reflecting the sun's trajectory over the course of both a day and a year. This was also reflected in the arresting photographic projections by Sutherland-based artist Catriona Murray.
Divided into six short movements, the piece was characterised first and foremost by Ross's sublimely lyrical melodic gifts, from its slow, delicate, solo piano opening – vividly evocative of pre-dawn stillness – to the heartrendingly lovely lament with which it ended, a haunting invocation (to this listener, at least) of the countless lives claimed by the wild seas and wickedly jagged rocks which were shown in the accompanying backdrop.
Between times, several sections reiterated Ross's symbiotic themes of ceaseless change and timeless constancy – a duality shared by both tides and seasons, as well as by human existence. Adopting a cyclical form in both tempo and content, these sequences journeyed from ethereal tranquillity to exhilarating stormy turbulence and back again, while fluently incorporating elements of traditional forms such as strathspeys, jigs and reels.
The instrumentation was deployed to its optimal expressive and representative potential throughout, and when the work drew to a close, after a thoroughly captivating hour, I would have happily listened to it all over again.