Edinburgh Festival: Going for the throat

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The Independent Culture
EDINBURGH'S FRINGE is probably most celebrated for theatre and comedy, but there is also a bewildering variety of music.

Things have been particularly busy at the magnificent Episcopal Cathedral, which possesses the best smaller choir in the city; amongst lunchtime recitals, concerts and late-night organ events was an excellent programme by the cathedral's lay clerks on Tuesday, mixing quirky archaic medieval material with glorious renaissance polyphony, Gombert's Magnificat showcasing this choir's beautiful sense of line and intonation.

Very different was a presentation on Chopin's visit to Scotland, at the Assembly Rooms. A sort of cross between a recital, a reading and a lecture, there was something a little homespun about it all, and the piano playing, though technically competent, was hardly inspired. Still, this was a fascinating tale of the tired and ill composer's experience of hospitality at the hands of "his Scottish Ladies".

We moved on to another plane with the the production by U Nikitskikh Vorot Theatre of Moscow of The Story of a Horse - "the most famous of Russian musicals" - by Leo Tolstoy. Given in a very spare staging in St John's Church, in Princes Street, the piece relied heavily on the actors' histrionic powers (considerable). The songs and music were characteristically soulful and/or frenzied, and the creation of a strong atmosphere out of almost nothing remarkable.

Closer to home (relatively speaking), the intriguing-sounding Tri x Tri, at The Famous Grouse House was a collaboration between a poet, dancer, sculptor, singers and pipers, all from Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland. There was real excellence - particularly from the singers and pipers - but the whole thing had a curiously flat, low-key feel in terms of presentation. And there was an uncomfortable sense of brooding over past wrongs, particularly with the poet Peter Campbell, to whom Culloden and the Skye bridge toll seemed to be equally wicked and clearly the work of the dastardly English.

One place where you are guaranteed an entertaining and politics-free evening is the Cafe Graffiti, at Mansfield Place Church; artists from all over the world provide a virtually continuous programme of fine music into the wee small hours. Particularly outstanding have been Cristina Branco, a Portuguese fado singer, whose expressive vocals held audiences spellbound, and the amazing Huun Huur Tu. From camel-riding songs to Buddhist ritual chanting, these four Mongolian throat singers have to be heard to be believed. Echoing through the mystic spaces of this remarkable venue, their evocation of primeval Siberian forests, complete with birdsong and animal cries, was quite trance-inducing and the most extraordinary thing I've heard so far on the Fringe.