The Fringe is dotted with newly fledged music students keen to find an audience. The Astrid Quartet are one such ensemble, formed in 2011 at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. This, the third in a series of five quintet concerts, eschewed established repertoire (they have already ticked off Schubert’s cello and Brahms’s clarinet quintet) in favour of new commissions from Glaswegian composers Richard Greer and Claire McCue for string quartet and trombone.
The combination is rare but not as esoteric as one might think: Stravinsky and Cage, among others, both played with such brass/string sonorities. The deep, mellow nature of the trombone has a beguiling resonance with the richness of the strings, something that Dávur Juul Magnussen, the young Faroese principal trombone of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, occasional soloist and keen jazz trombonist, proved in spades. Nothing jazzy in these compositions, however, both of which gave Magnussen’s resonant style a diverting, if not dazzling, workout.
Richard Greer’s Run Away charts bleak territory — the mechanics of menace, anger, fear and helplessness — although less so than it appears on the page. This 15-minute work was an effective, raw cacophony of discord, well played by the young ensemble, that made way for shimmering string oscillations and dangerously muted trombone, idling irritably before fading menacingly into the ether.
Perhaps more immediately prepossessing was Claire McCue’s After the Before, a more traditional three-movement work and so-called because she wrote the movements in reverse order. The trombone begins like a fugitive, fleeing over the strings, before a second movement pitting Magnussen’s expressive trombone against the tip-tapping of the Astrid’s hard-working bows in almost cinematographic music that hinted at lyricism. Both pieces impressed, although occasionally fell a little short in their exploration of the ensemble’s possibilities. The Astrid’s last concert, today, is the Elgar Piano Quintet with Scott Mitchell.