Song To Me

Aug 27 2015 | By More

The Music and Songs of Julian Wagstaff
✭✭✭✩✩   Elegant and accessible

artSpace@StMarks (Venue 125); Tues 25 – Fri 28 August 2015

There is a broad appeal to Song To Me, a programme of excerpts from various works by Edinburgh composer Julian Wagstaff.

Some of the music is billed as opera, some as chamber music, some as musical theatre, but the pieces are not as discrete as that makes it sound. The opera excerpts and musical songs in particular operate in a space somewhere between Schubert, Sondheim and Sullivan, sometimes pulling closer to one edge of the triangle, sometimes to another.

Julian Wagstaff. Photo Colin Hattersley

Julian Wagstaff. Photo Colin Hattersley

The instrumental pieces also display a playful but carefully integrated set of influences. Hebridean Sunset Rag is a jazzy affair, complete with basslines from a pizzicato cello, that has definite rock and roll touches.  The excerpt from the Saxophone Sonata also has jazz overtones, while the spindly grace of Für Anothai and the twinkling sturdiness of A Persistent Illusion also span various genres.

There is a melodic, almost romantic sensibility at play here (although not necessarily Romantic in the classical sense), decorated with a baroque froth, that is thoroughly accessible without being sentimental or unchallenging. Mark Bailey (cello), Jean Johnson (clarinet) and pianist Andrew Johnston perform everything with style and dash, aided by the excellent acoustic qualities of St Mark’s Unitarian Church.

The songs are largely more predictable, although still interesting. My Own Space is a clever relationship-breakdown piece, while the excerpts from John Paul Jones, particularly Song To Me itself, would easily fit into any Fringe ‘songs from the shows’ performance.


Tenor Colin Thomas Bryce and Marie Claire Breen (soprano) show their versatility by discharging the musical theatre numbers without the unnecessary heaviness ‘legitimate’ singers sometimes bring to the genre. What is particularly heartening is the way their training enables them to use their powers judiciously, unlike some theatrical performers who turn things up to eleventy-stupid at the slightest provocation.

The closing excerpt from Breathe Freely, the chamber opera due for release on Linn Records in October, was probably the evening’s most intriguing moment. Influenced, as some of the other pieces are, by scientific research, they have a catchy, soaring quality that epitomises the cross-genre appeal of Wagstaff’s music.

There is an inviting, unstuffy feel to the evening. While it is carefully programmed, it still seems more like a taster than a coherent whole. In that regard, it does its job well, leaving the audience eager to hear more.

Running time 55 minutes
artSpace@StMarks (Venue 125), 7 Castle Terrace, EH1 2DP
Tuesday 25 – Friday 28 August 2015
Daily at 8.30 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website:
Show website:

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