Mr McFall’s Chamber

Aug 29 2023 | By More

★★★★☆      Fulfilling

Rose Theatre (Venue 76): Mon 28 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Mr McFall’s Chamber, one of the most precious and undervalued of Scotland’s musical assets, returned with a programme at the Rose Theatre on the last night of the Fringe that was as varied as it was satisfying.

The Soundhouse Organisation took over the Rose (put up for sale earlier this year) on a short-term and somewhat last-minute basis for the Fringe. The Rose still has immense potential as a venue, with the main theatre (hearteningly close to full on this occasion) just one of several useful performance spaces.

Mr McFall’s Chamber on stage at the Rose Theatre. Pic: Thom Dibdin.

Soundhouse’s programme of 48 performances was a diverse and impressive mix of music, and it is fitting that Mr McFall’s Chamber were one of the artists on the last night. Robert McFall founded the group, with other players from the SCO and Scottish Ballet, in 1996. They started off in Edinburgh nightclubs, playing an eclectic selection of music not necessarily associated with classical performers. A traditional-looking string quartet (with additional double bass) supplemented by other musicians as necessary, they are more likely to play folk, jazz or Captain Beefheart than anything you would hear on Classic FM.

Which goes to explain how a programme – tango from Argentina, Poland and Finland, classical music from Cuba and Mexico, the Elizabethan lutenist John Dowland, and Raymond Scott (the bandleader and inventor whose work was used by Carl Stalling in the Merrie Melodies cartoons) – that would seem bizarrely eclectic by most standards actually contained few surprises for a McFalls audience.

The programme had something of a ‘greatest hits’ feel about it, but now that Mr McFall himself is not seen doing his shopping in the Morningside Road as often as he once was, it is wonderful to see them in Edinburgh at all.

accessible entertainment

The combination of refinement and informality, of being serious about the music but not remotely precious about it, made for thoroughly accessible entertainment. There was a feeling that things were a little crammed in – Robert McFall’s trademark announcements, completely lacking in self-importance but always informative, were uncharacteristically short.

The music, however, did have sufficient room to breathe. It is not always stressed just how accomplished an arranger McFall is. The music is always allowed to speak for itself, but there is a sharing-out of resources that is democratic without being artificial, and a sound to everything that is warm and inviting, yet still making sufficient demands on the listener.

Mr McFall’s Chamber on stage at the Rose Theatre. Pic: Hugh Simpson.

There is never going to be anything stuffy about an ensemble that features cellist Su-a Lee, a member from the beginning, or violinist Gordon Bragg, seemingly often on the point of levitating out of his seat. Other than McFall, the group featured Rick Standley (bass) – in the Chamber since virtually the start – long-term associate Graeme McNaught (keyboards), Jessica Beeston (viola) and Stuart Semple (drums).

In such a varied programme, it is hard to pick out highlights, but as always, the work of nuevo tangomaestro Astor Piazzolla, whether the dynamic Michelangelo 70 or the yearning Soledad stood out. Täysikuu by Toivo Kärki also came as something of a surprise to those who were not previously aware of Finland’s long-standing obsession with the tango.

musical saw

A group who always seek to bring new audiences to the music are not above novelty, and the emergence of Lee’s musical saw for Raymond Scott’s Portofino (where it uncannily apes Scott’s original use of an early synthesiser) was a particular crowd-pleaser.

It is decidedly not a gimmick, however – the unannounced encore of the hymn from Finlandia, also featuring the saw, can bring a lump to the throat even to those with no emotional investment in Finland, chamber music or carpentry.

Which reflects what Mr McFall’s Chamber have always done. Many strive for eclecticism and it becomes a mess; Robert McFall and his cohorts instead always seem to bring excitement and beauty. More power to their elbows and let’s hope they are back in Edinburgh sooner next time.

Running time: One hour 10 minutes (no interval)
Rose Theatre (Main theatre), 204 Rose St, EH4 2AZ (Venue 64)
Monday 28 August 2023
One performance: 7.00 pm
Details: See here.

Mr McFall’s Chamber links:


Facebook: @MrMcFallsChamber

Soundhouse links

Soundhouse returns to its regular Monday evening gigs in the Traverse bar, with a programme from Monday 11 Sept to Mon 18 Dec 2023. Full details: click here.

Soundhouse website:

Facebook: @soundhouseorg

Instagram: @soundhouseorg

Twitter: @SoundhouseOrg



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