Dunedin Consort

Glasgow University Memorial Chapel

Taking its title from one of the newest works in the programme, Dunedin Consort’s Scattered Rhymes was an engrossing journey through the history of unaccompanied vocal music that ranged from the foundation texts of Palestrina and Victoria to the inspirations of a classic 1971 rock track and contemporary sustainable horticultural practice.

Associate Director and conductor Nicholas Mulroy, who devised the sequence of music, shared the information that composer Tarik O’Regan had cited The Who’s Won’t Get Fooled Again as an influence on his three-movement suite almost as an aside. In performance, however, the tension between Pete Townshend’s repeating keyboard figure and his signature power chords was clearly replicated in the challenging music written for a quartet of the singers and that produced by the rest of the ensemble.

Scattered Rhymes is, as Mulroy said, a startlingly original composition, and there are precious few groups that would attempt it, far less pull it off in such impressive style.

What linked all the works through the centuries was the words they set: either Petrarch (O’Regan, Gavin Bryars, and early Flemish composer Adrian Willaert) or the equally sensual Biblical texts from Song of Songs, set by James MacMillan in the opening Behold, you are beautiful, my love, and by Canadian composer Stephanie Martin for the sparkling Rise up my love. 

The exception was Caroline Shaw’s Companion Planting, a brand new work commissioned by Dunedin Consort from America’s hottest name in contemporary composition. The richly-metaphorical poem she wrote herself has much in common with those earlier writers, but the music is unmistakably the voice of the woman who herself writes and performs with vocal group Roomful of Teeth.

Its repertoire was evident in the clever, sparing use of extended techniques within the work’s accessible melodic structure, like the gentle ululating demonstrated by soprano Claire Evans. Shaw’s lyric is lovely in itself on the page and the way she shares it among the men and women of the choir, with the others supplying wordless counterpoint, was perfectly realised.

This edition of the chamber choir contained three singers, Caitlin Mackenzie, Evan McDonald, and Isaac Tolley, recruited through the Dunedin’s Bridging the Gap project for young musicians at the start of their careers - all here essential and fully integrated members of the ensemble.