National Youth Choir of Scotland

Three stars

The start of the Saturday evening's concert by the National Girls Choir of the National Youth Choir of Scotland was heralded by the golden sound of festival artist-in-residence Alec Frank-Gemmill's french horn playing, echoing round the warm church with the Prologue from Britten's Serenade For Tenor Horn And Strings.

This surprise introduction led us to the programmed start of the concert - Britten's Missa Brevis in D-major from the Girls Choir. Which meant we moved from the last F-natural of the Serenade to the opening F-sharp of the Missa Brevis with something of a jolt. But NYCoS is rightly a phenomenon of the Scottish musical world at the moment, under the direction of Christopher Bell, and one was soon lost in admiration for its diction, control and blended sound, if not moved.

Four Chorale Preludes from Brahms Op 122, played by John Kitchen at the organ, challenged the audience to settle its attention on the different sounds of this instrument, before the choir returned with Brahms: Four Songs from Op 17.

Written for choir, two horns and harp, this instrumentation was also the bedrock of a new commission from William Sweeney, Four Songs from The Singin' Lass. Beginning with atmospheric low harp from Sharon Griffiths, and featuring lovely solo voices above the choir, the concert suddenly came to life. Sweeney's third movement, The Blue Jacket was another special moment, where time dissolved in suspended lines, though we heard less of the gripping text by Scots poet Marion Angus as a result.

Britten's Ceremony Of Carols with it's magical final Recession, closed the concert.

Performed with exemplary skill and focus, with many serenely pure beautiful phrases, it needed more drama, joy and triumph.

Cecilia Bernadini

Four stars

A LATE-NIGHT treat was in store on Saturday at the festival, as listeners flocked to hear violinist Cecilia Bernadini perform unaccompanied Bach at St Mary's Haddington. Although the advertised candlelight, being at floor level, was out of sight to all but the front row of seats, the atmosphere for this performance was nonetheless devotional, and cosy.

Taking her place in the half-light to perform the A minor Sonata No 2, the angelic-looking Bernadini played on gut strings and at baroque pitch. Sure enough, the Grave opened with a deep and slow power, while the Fuga captured a stately poise, with time and phrase given to each voice.

In the Andante, Bernadini added graceful and finely judged ornamentation, before moving with a fierce and fiery energy into the Allegro.

Next was the D-minor Partita No 2, the dances of which Bernadini artfully underlined. Starting with an Allemande that didn't hang about, Bernadini found a genuine swing in this movement, which was a pleasure and a rarity to hear.

Her Courante was also right on its toes, both in its fine execution and its light skip. After a beautifully lilting Sarabande and a wild but varied Gigue, which people couldn't help but applaud, we came to the cornerstone, the Chaconne.

Here were new delights; light quaver upbeats that didn't need hammering down, the giddying swoop and soar of the violin register, the dance that didn't stop, and the arpeggiated string crossing that rocketed around the church and later still in your head. Without fuss or sentiment, we arrived at the end. Except that Bernadini wasn't through with Bach for the night, delivering the G-major Adagio as an encore and a parting gift.

Danish String Quartet/Mark Simpson
Kate Molleson
Four stars

There's a passage in the slow movement of Mozart's Clarinet Quintet that gets me every
time: just a brief sequence of downward-shifting suspended harmonies, crunchy and somehow timeless.

I've never heard it more beautifully done than in this performance by the Danish String Quartet and clarinettist Mark Simpson.

The upper strings were muted and nutty-warm, the cello pulsated richly, and Simpson's honeyed tone wove weightlessly in amongst them.

When the main theme finally returned it was carried on a mellow whisper (and, incidentally, a single vast breath on Simpson's part - no small feat).

There were many similarly wonderful moments during this afternoon recital. The Danes are a striking bunch, full of character but never overly demonstrative. That the violinists take turns to lead indicates how much of an ensemble mentality is at play here - they listen and respond to each other with perfect Scandinavian courtesy.

Their sound is warm and woody: clean, sturdy, supple and rough grained, it really blossomed in Whitekirk's petite 12th-century church.

The quartet opened with a performance of Haydn's quartet in F minor, Op 20 no 5, that was alert and uncluttered. There was quiet turmoil in the opening movement, a flash of muscle in the chunky minuet, gentle lilt in the Adagio and a finale that built from eerie, vibrato-less fragments to a fiery close.

The Mozart, by contrast, was as spacious and romantic as I have heard it. Simpson was an ideal match: playing a special oversized clarinet with long plumbing to reach the lowest notes of the original score, his sound was velvety the bottom and his control seemed effortless. Classy stuff.