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Strathearn Music Society Review – Gaia Duo

16 March 2022 This past season the Strathearn Music Society has given us six concerts featuring five different forms of chamber music, ranging from solo piano through to wind quintet. In between there have been a string quartet, a string trio and two different duos, the whole series providing an immensely varied and fascinating menu of small-scale and intimate music-making at its very best.
Gaia Duo are violinist Katrina Lee and cellist Alice Allen, both clearly trained in the classical mould but, like an increasing number of today’s generation of performers, more than comfortable with the folk and traditional idiom as well. It’s not difficult when listening to them to be persuaded that our tendency to compartmentalise music into separate genres is unhelpful, and that a broader and more inclusive view has so much more to offer.
As well as being open-minded musical explorers they’re also obviously staunch advocates of composers who don’t come under the classification of “dead white male”, and one of the many wonderful things about last Wednesday’s concert was that, although Arcangelo Corelli featured in a minority of one under the DWM heading, that fact didn’t really even seem worthy of mention. Things are certainly making progress when Elizabeth Maconchy, Rebecca Clarke, Catherine White and Sally Beamish can form the backbone of such a satisfying programme and you don’t even realise until you get home that you haven’t actually heard any Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven. Catherine White, by the way, is the only proper “unknown” in the foregoing list. Although certainly a Scottish composer at the turn of the 19th century her exact identity was effectively blurred by the male dominance of the creative arts at the time. Unjustly neglected until fairly recent years, Maconchy and Clarke are now widely accepted as significant individual voices of the 20th century, paving the way for, among many others, the versatile and gifted Sally Beamish, whose “Stone, Salt and Sky” made a fitting finale for Gaia’s Crieff concert. Commissioned by them with support from Chamber Music Scotland and first performed at the St Magnus Festival less than a year ago, it speaks eloquently of the landscape, seascape and history of Orkney, drawing the listener delightfully into the magic and wonder of the Northern Isles. An upbeat encore of two Scottish dances from collections by Nathaniel Gow sent the audience away happily skipping down Strathearn Terrace.
Interesting and mostly unfamiliar repertoire gave this concert much of its flavour but Gaia have so much more to offer besides. So accomplished are they that their sheer technical prowess can easily go unnoticed until after the intensity and joy of their performance have worked their spell. Rarely do musicians radiate such unalloyed pleasure in their work as these two ladies. If the idea of a string duo seems to you any less substantial and rewarding than a quartet, then think again. Less can very definitely be more.

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