Dunedin Consort

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

TREVOR Pinnock may be an elder statesman of early music in the UK, but there is something irresistibly boyish about his demeanour when the conductor and harpsichordist hears something that delights him on his concert platform.

For this Easter weekend presentation of Bach’s St Matthew Passion there was plenty for Pinnock to be smilingly youthful about. With the quartets of singers on either side of him and two instrumental ensembles in parallel behind, and a dozen sopranos from Paisley Abbey processing on at the start and end of the first part, there was a visual structure to the evening that invited the capacity audience to enjoy the precision symmetry of the composer’s writing. The clarity of the instrumental playing, from continuo in all its manifestations, through the melodic lines of pairs of flutes and oboes, to the entire ensemble and a beautiful solo turn from violinist Huw Daniel, was superb, and - some slightly wayward intonation in the reeds at the start of the second half apart - consistently impressive.

And what a cast Pinnock had for this revelation of the Gospel, carefully chosen for characterful balance. Hugo Hymas is surely the quintessential Evangelist of our time, and certainly the least mannered of the top singers performing this demanding three hours. His is a natural narrative voice, effortless at the top of his range, while baritone Tomas Kral and bass Matthias Helm brought contrasting expressive dramatic heft to Jesus and the portfolio roles of Pilate, Chief Priest, Peter and Judas.

That balance of different vocal colour was also evident in the pairing of soprano Miriam Allan with Lithuanian Lina Dambrauskaite, whom I don’t recall having heard before. More familiar - from the recent Dunedin recording of Handel’s Samson - was contralto Jess Dandy, who was in glorious form here.

Early in the work she had an aria with flute accompaniment, followed quickly by Dambrauskaite and a variation on the same ingredients, which seemed emblematic of the way the whole performance sequentially unfolded, with Pinnock all over every detail of it. A complete musical delight.