Dunedin Consort

Glasgow University Memorial Chapel

Keith Bruce

four stars

CLEARLY bass Matthew Brook had no part in the tripping of a light switch that delayed the start of the Dunedin Consort’s performance of Handel’s dramatic cantata Apollo e Dafne, occupying the second half of this programme. But the hiatus, until light was shone on the instrumentalists’ music, somehow suited his theatrical purpose.

When Brook opened his account of the boastful god – soon to be disappointed in his amorous ambitions by Rowan Pierce’s assertive Dafne – it was mostly without his own score and accompanied by a range of facial expressions that recalled Michael Schumacher in his pomp on the top step of the Formula 1 podium.

The composer’s plundering of Ovid and Petrach is a musical delight, and had the best balance of the musical forces we heard all night, with Katy Bircher’s flute joining the fine performance by oboist Alexandra Bellamy and eleven strings, led by Huw Daniel. It was also a hoot in this performance. Dafne’s final strategy to thwart her would-be seducer is to transform herself into a tree, which the verdantly-frocked Pierce accomplished with some leafy ornamentation, but her initial feisty response, declaring herself happy to be footloose and fancy-free, seemed very modern indeed.

The soprano was as fully in command of the musical material as her vocal partner, and hearing her full range in this intimate context was a delight. Before the interval her debut with the Dunedins was with Silete Venti, a later devotional work that concludes with a fast Alleluia full of daring intervals and long complex lines. The opening work was the well-known Water Music, which Handel composed for a jaunt on the Thames by King George I, and on it the period string instruments, and director John Butt’s harpsichord, were a little overwhelmed by the winds. Very soon, however, the challenges of the chapel acoustic were overcome by an ensemble full of fine performances, including some tricky natural horn wrangling and consistently sweetly-toned bassoon from Katrin Lazar.