Dunedin Consort

Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

WITH the busy group’s last concert of the old year being a hugely praised Bach recital on Hogmanay at London’s Wigmore Hall, the Dunedin Consort’s first appearance of 2019 risked sounding an austere event. Entitled “Beginning of the Revolution”, it recreated a recital at the home of “early music” pioneer Arnold Dolmetsch in Bloomsbury, London, in February 1896, which was a strictly chronological sequence played on period instruments including Purcell, Handel and Rameau alongside the less well-known John Jenkins, Henry Lawes, and Johann Kuhnau.

With the ensemble’s artistic director, Glasgow University’s Professor John Butt in charge, and at the harpsichord, it was, of course, anything but dry. Here was a further reminder, if one was needed, that the Dunedin Consort is – as well as much else – a vehicle for an inspirational teacher to share his practice with the wider public. Just as Dolmetsch was evangelical in having baroque music heard, Butt and his associates are in the forefront of historically informed performance over a century later. The crucial difference is that the evidence suggests that Dolmetsch and his family group were not the most able of musicians, while, as Butt himself suggested, “we are actually quite good.”

Whether or not the guests at the Dolmetsch home back then – who included James Joyce and Ezra Pound – recognised that, this music must surely have been excruciating when badly played. Happily its intricacies were in good hands here, starting with the delicious interplay between the viols of Jonathan Manson and Alison McGillivray on a Jenkins’s Pavane and later including a virtuoso and melody-packed sonata by Benedetto Marcello played by Manson. Butt was in his solo element on Kuhnau’s David and Goliath, the Old Testament story depicted in some of the earliest programme music we know. Soprano Rachel Redmond had a cameo on two lute songs by Henry Lawes and violinist Huw Daniel joined the ensemble for a Handel sonata.

Time considerations curtailed the programme a little here (to the great disappointment of a capacity house denied Butt playing from Book 2 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier), but fortunate folk in Madrid, or listening on Spanish radio, hear the full concert on Wednesday.