Lammermuir Festival


St Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington

Keith Bruce

four stars

IT is indicative of the place that artistic directors Hugh Macdonald and James Waters have built for their East Lothian event – the UK’s best festival according to the prestigious Royal Philharmonic Society awards last year – that it has concerts this year by three of Scotland’s four national music companies, with the BBC SSO, Macdonald’s old outfit, giving this opening concert, and Scottish Opera joining the party later this week.

Conductor Karl-Heinz Steffens made his debut with the missing one, the RSNO, earlier this year directing a concert that featured 24-year-old Romanian cellist Andrea Ionita playing the Schumann concerto. Here he was teamed with 21-year-old Laura van der Heijden, winner of the BBC Young Musician competition back in 2012 when she was just 15, for Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C, his first for the instrument, but a lost work until 1961.

Its Adagio second movement in particular contains some of the composer’s most melodious writing, while the sparing use of the winds in the finale is quintessential Haydn, with the chamber-sized SSO strings in perfect balance with the soloist throughout, under Steffens’s attentive direction. The soloist’s relaxed, elegant poise on the cadenzas at the end of the first two movements demonstrated a musical maturity well beyond her years.

Pairing that work with Bruckner’s most often-heard symphony, his Seventh, revealed a kinship in the optimistic opening of its Adagio second movement, although the Austrian then embarks on his own long path in ways that would have seemed very odd to his predecessor. Conducting without a score, Steffens plotted a journey through the work that made the most of every detail of the orchestration, from flautist Bronte Hudnott and clarinettist Yann Ghiro’s partnership in the opening movement to the crucial role of the bass instruments in the finale.

Perhaps not an obvious work to programme in the venue, for all Bruckner’s own firm faith, it proved perfect for the wonderfully warm and resonant, rather than reverberant, acoustic.