Lammermuir Festival

Dunedin Consort

St Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE 10th Lammermuir Festival began in what co-director James Waters identifies as East Lothian’s quintessential chamber-music Kirk, St Mary’s in Whitekirk, its ancient acoustic the perfect venue for the first of three recitals by Quatuor Mosaiques of string quartets by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. This independent offshoot of the practice of period music pioneer Nikolaus Harnoncourt has maintained the same line-up under leader Erich Hobarth for 30 years and their sound in that space was very special indeed.

It was to the much larger St Mary’s in Haddington, the festival’s main venue, that the Dunedin Consort had journeyed hot-foot from their triumphant appearance in the Albert Hall at the BBC Proms. After the premieres of four contemporary works amidst their Bach there, this was a more conventional Dunedin concert: a pair of Brandenburgs, two Orchestral Suites and a couple of Vivaldi Concertos with Cecilia Bernardini and Katy Bircher the violin and flute soloists and a fluctuating size of ensemble. Although that employed 20 musicians, by the final work, with Bircher on glorious form, there was just a single instrument to each part, mirroring the approach of the organisation’s vocal ensemble, with the same compelling clarity.

Earlier on there had been some balance problems, with Joe Qiu’s articulate bassoon less audible than one might have wished in Bach’s First Orchestral Suite, although the resonance of the church and the detail of the playing were in better equilibrium when the horns joined the strings for Brandenburg No.1.

Some odd lapses from the ensemble’s usually high standards were very likely down to fatigue, with a rhythmic wobble in the last movement of the first Vivaldi concerto and a ragged end to Brandenburg No.3. It sometimes seemed as if there was a little uncertainty as to who was calling the shots, Bernardini from the violin or John Butt at the harpsichord, but again that may be down to the group’s recent hectic schedule - and they still play baroque music with a vivacity few can match.