Lammermuir Festival

Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Dunbar Parish Church

Keith Bruce

four stars

VIRTUOSO flautist Adam Walker opened a three-concert residency at the Lammermuir Festival in the company of the SCO and German conductor Moritz Gnann, a protégé of Andris Nelsons, who had stepped in at short notice to replace Daniel Blendulf for the orchestra’s pre-season tour of Scotland.

Gnann can be excused not being familiar with the acoustic of Dunbar Parish Church, although the substantially remodelled place of worship works as well as a concert hall as it did as an opera house for last year’s festival. So there was some understandable ebb and flow in the balance for the two symphonies that bracketed Walker’s contributions to the programme.

Haydn’s No 44 in E Minor begins beautifully with a solo horn line framed by the strings, and it was the balance of those strings on which the conductor focused his early attention. By the third movement Adagio, which is much less mournful than the work’s nickname, Trauer, suggests, he clearly felt better able to encourage the entire melodious flow.

Come the closing Mozart Linz Symphony, No 36 – which had a more funereal start than any part of the Haydn – there were times when the lower instruments overwhelmed the melody line, and the mix tended to be better on the faster music.

The same ingredients are employed with polish rather than pastiche in Nielsen’s Flute Concerto, with some playful sparring between the soloist and the incongruous bass trombone at the finale and clarinet and bassoon both acting as foils to the flute earlier on. The sound-world of this work suits the SCO very well indeed (that low trombone notwithstanding) and Gnann seemed to relish the combination of the orchestra and the soloist.

Brett Dean’s The Siduri Dances, which Walker premiered in 2011, is high-octane stuff for the flautist, with slides, note-bending, and different vibrato effects - and no less demanding of the accompanying string orchestra with distinctive configurations of the high and low instruments, both bowed and pizzicato. The huge variety of string colours were often as fascinating as the virtuosity the work demands of the soloist at the front, and which Walker took effortlessly in his stride.