Louise Dodds and Elchin Shirinov – St Vincent’s Chapel, Edinburgh – 26th August 2023.
Both the album, Two Hours After Midnight, and the live performance of it in Edinburgh, represent musical creation and performance at its most exciting and profound.
Louise Dodds and Elchin Shirinov’s recent album release, Two Hours After Midnight, is a remarkable reinterpretation of eight traditional Scottish folk songs, set within arrangements drawn from the traditional music of Azerbaijan, and the jazz and classical music worlds. The album was reviewed with high praise here on At The Barrier . So, the opportunity to review a live performance of the album in its entirety, as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, was too good to pass up.
The venue for the concert is St Vincent’s Chapel, in the Stockbridge area of Edinburgh. With its striking gothic architecture, it opened its doors in 1857, and as well as being an active working church, it is also a location for music making, and is used by musicians “to learn, rehearse and perform.” This evening, Elchin Shirinov’s grand piano and Louise Dodds’ microphone are situated under the majestic main archway, in the central part of the church, which frames a breathtaking vista of three large stained-glass panels. The audience are seated in traditional fixed pews, and it seems the perfect venue for the performance of the album.
Louise Dodds introduces the concert, and informs the audience that they will be playing the new album from start to finish, and in sequence. The opening song from the album, Comin’ Thro’ The Rye, one of the four Robert Burns songs on the album, is sung and played beautifully. Louise’s vocal has a wonderful intonation, that brings out the poetical language of the words, while also adding a jazz-based airiness and phrasing. It is completely captivating. Elchin’s piano arrangement is full of gorgeous flowing melodies, that in the mid instrumental section evolves into a series of sparkling runs set within a traditional reel. It is immediately apparent that the dramatic acoustics of the venue are just perfect, highlighting every nuance and resonance from the superb music these two artists have created.
It is explained by Louise that the project was inspired by a love of Scottish folk songs, and a journey of research and discovery into this heritage. In fact, each song has a story to tell, and the following Loch Tay Boat Song, evokes the hard work of fishing and the joy and despair of unrequited love. The storytelling and emotions at the heart of the song are conveyed with artistry and understanding in a striking vocal performance. The extended mid song piano sequence gives full expression to the song’s theme of sorrow and joy, reaching several very impressive crescendos. Elchin looks up and Louise comes back in for the concluding verses, and a final wordless vocal elegantly floating above the piano. The way in which the duo plays these songs seems almost telepathic with every cue perfectly executed.
Ae Fond Kiss, was the song that started the idea for the album, and is a song Robert Burns wrote for his love Nancy. They were both married and corresponded using pen names but were never able to be together. The song is full of emotion, and is here given a very contemporary jazz feel. Louise’s vocal has a deep tone and blissfully ascends out across the venue, her gesturing open hands emphasising the powerful emotions at work in the song.
Ye Bank and Braes, a heartfelt Robert Burns song, tells the sad story of love betrayed. Louise introduces it as “One of my favourites,” but also “…another sad story I am afraid.” In conversation, after the concert, Louise shared that she found the song “… very emotional. It took me quite a few turns of singing it to not want to cry.” Elchin added, “We actually cried, it was very emotional, a beautiful song.” The piano arrangement and vocal gently soar up through the venue, giving exquisite flight to the song’s sorrowful sentiments. In Elchin’s piano solo, the spaces left, allow the notes to reverberate throughout the hall in the most thrilling fashion. A very beautiful reading of this very moving song.
Oh True Love Is A Bonnie Flower, we find out, was found by the duo searching through sheet music, but with no recorded version able to be found. In performance, the song takes on a really engaging contemporary blues structure, with the poignancy of the song fully realised. Closing your eyes, the song could be being performed at the iconic Ronnie Scott’s. The smiles exchanged at the end of the song are testament to how in sympathy these two musicians are.
Lass O’ Gowrie, alongside Ye Bank and Braes, is one of the completely transcendent live expositions of songs from the album. It is a spellbinding delivery of a great song, where the joyful and uplifting story of love found, is matched by the singularly empathic and beautifully paced vocal and the fluent and free-flowing piano chords that echo throughout the venue. The song was written by Lady Nairne, who was also known as Carolina Oliphant, and deserves to be much more widely known.
The concert concludes with Night Visiting Song and Auld Lang Syne. Night Visiting Song tells of a clandestine lovers meeting, and is a romantic ballad, where Louise’s voice gently traces out the contours of the song, and Elchin’s piano break adds some wonderfully crafted classical music harmonies. Auld Lang Syne, utilises the melody first written for it before Robert Burns decided he wanted to do something different with the song. It is as Louise describes it, the “alternative version.” It takes the song back to its emotional core of solidarity and connection, and is played with a palpable intensity before gently fading out to sustained applause from an appreciative audience.
In our conversation following the concert, Louise and Elchin described what they have enjoyed most about playing the songs from the album live. Louise commented that “For me, for so long I have always played in a quartet, so it’s a really nice experience for me to play as a duo, with just piano. I have really loved that.” Elchin shared that “For me, we basically play the same arrangement, but I have options to improvise a few parts, so every time I enjoy those parts more because I can do different things.” They also, very excitingly, referred to plans to add more improvisation at future gigs, including with the song Comin’ Thro’ The Rye, adding a trading improvisation between voice and piano at the end of the song.
Both the album, Two Hours After Midnight, and the live performance of it, represent musical creation and performance at its most exciting and profound. The combination of vocal and piano with a sympathetic and complementary range of musical influences, provide these Scottish folk songs and the timeless emotions they express, with a new contemporary musical platform, that does them complete justice, and will hopefully also bring them to the attention of new audiences. Louise and Elchin are very talented musicians who have given their artistry in service of these great songs and done them proud.
At the end of the conversation, Louise and Elchin indicated plans for future concerts together, and also individually new projects. So, check in on the links below for future news of these.
With thanks to Anne Robertson.
For more information about Louise Dodds and Elchin Shirinov:
Categories: Live Reviews