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Baba Yaga Concert November 2023

Cowal Music Club were highly entertained by the duo Baba Yaga who taking advantage of the varied sound colours from the unusual combination of harp and alto and soprano saxophones, explored original compositions in the first half.

From the start the enchanting Karen Dufour, saxophone and Gwen Sinclair, harp, cast their spell over the audience with their interaction of such differing instruments. It certainly was compelling listening and watching, if at times, difficult to understand.

They began with a piece by the German composer and founder of the first German saxophone, Gustave Bumcke, with ‘Notturno OP45’ for alto saxophone and harp. They followed that with ‘Romance’ for soprano saxophone and harp by the American jazz multi-instrumentalist Yusef Lateef.

The highlight of the first half was the ten year old piece by Scottish composer Eddie McGuire commissioned by the club in 2014. It was called ‘Cowal Colours’ and was inspired by the en plein air expressive paintings of the Cowal landscape by local artists, Don McNeil and Jean Bell(McNeil) including a collaboration between Eddie and the artists as they painted in their studios while he composed. Before the concert, Eddie was introduced by Don as he had travelled down especially to hear his composition transcribed from flute and harp to saxophone and harp.

The second half was completely different as they performed Modest Mussorgsky’s masterwork, ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ arranged by the Duo. This suite consists of musical depictions of 10 paintings by his friend Victor Hartmann. It was originally composed in 1874 for solo piano but it became better known in orchestral form and, in particular, Maurice Ravel’s transcription.

From the familiar opening ‘Promenade’ the duo produced sound colours through their absolute skill in making their instruments sing with outstanding musicianship. Their then followed four movements or ‘pictures’ in order of appearance as Mussorgsky walked round the galleries. We have ‘The Gnome’, depiction of an awkward dwarf, ‘The Old Castle’ (a solemn and lyrical portrayal of a medieval troubadour singing), ‘Tuileries’, a sprightly sketch of children at play and ‘Cattle’ a ponderous characterization of the lumbering of a large Polish ox cart.

The scampering fifth movement, ‘The Ballet of Unchicked Chicks in their Shells’ represents a costume design by Hartmann for a children’s ballet. The sixth scene evokes an image of ‘Two Jews: One rich, one Poor’ through interplay of a strident melody in the lower register and a twittering chantlike theme in the upper. The folksy and cheerful quality of the seventh movement, ‘The Market at Limoges’ is neutralised by the eight, ‘The Catacombs’ with ominous chords and variations on the recurring intermezzo. The last two scenes are the most renowned. ‘TheHut on Fowl’s legs’ is a nightmarish portrayal of the cackling witch Baba Yaga on the prowl for her prey. The final piece that brought their concert to a majestic close was the well known ‘The Great Gate of Kiev’.

With only a harp and soprano and alto saxophones they conjured up sounds as if it was a full orchestra thanks to the remarkable playing by the Gwen ably supported by the beautiful and sensitive playing by Karen who had to quickly change from alto to soprano.

This was truly an outstanding performance and received a prolonged ovation from the highly appreciative audience, and rightly so.

Cowal music Club’s next concert is on 3rd December at 2.30 and is by the Violin and guitar duo, Escocia’ who will play pieces by Paganini, Piazzolla, Bartok and Scottish traditional.


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