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Academy of Ancient Music/Egarr Usher Hall, Edinburgh

THE Usher Hall will never be the ideal venue for a small period orchestra.

Baroque-style instruments produce a sound that's generally quieter and more delicate than modern equivalents; the effect gets lost in such a large auditorium and performers have to work extra hard to make their impact felt. So it was doubly ambitious for the Academy of Ancient Music to open their all-Vivaldi tour programme with a piece in which the whole band uses mutes throughout. The Violin Concerto in E Major RV 270 made an underwhelming whisper of an opener, and featured some surprisingly ropey solo playing from leader Pavlo Beznosiuk.

Things picked up with the entrance of conductor and harpsichordist Richard Egarr, a musical force who could inject chutzpah into a wooden spoon. The 18-piece Choir of the AAM provided hearty, shapely singing in the Dixit Dominus in D and the Gloria in D, and orchestral lines flowed with easy lilt. This wasn't particularly sprightly baroque playing, but it was always stylish and graceful, carried by notably buoyant continuo (local audiences might have recognised the full-bodied, peppy bassoon playing of former SCO principal Ursula Leveaux). And the Dixit's seventh movement, Jubicabit in nationius, contained the first jazzy slides I've ever heard come out of natural trumpets.

Baritone Marcus Farnsworth is always commanding, whether singing Turnage, Maxwell Davies or Vivaldi. Claudia Huckle's mezzo was dark and veiled – beguiling in timbre but not vivid enough to communicate in this context. Highlights of the evening came from Elizabeth Watts, a feisty, full-voiced soprano whose Introduction al Gloria: Ostro picta brimmed with sassy virtuosity.


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