Jess Dandy and Malcolm Martineau

Perth Concert Hall

Keith Bruce


WHATEVER else was happening in Level Two Scotland on a Tuesday afternoon, in Perth Concert Hall ears were flapping and hands were clapping.

For the first time in a year, two months and 10 days, music was performed live in front of an indoor audience. Music that crucially involved that most contentious of Covid-era activities, singing.

Around 100 tracked and traced, pre-booked ticket-holders took their places at socially-distanced tables which replaced the hall’s stalls seating for the first of four lunchtime recitals under the banner “Live and Unlocked”, being broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 as part of a week of Scottish concerts.

Cumbrian contralto Jess Dandy was accompanied by Edinburgh-born Herald Angel-winning pianist Malcolm Martineau, and if Ms Dandy suspected that she could have sung nursery rhymes and a few pages from the Tayside telephone directory and still won rapturous applause, she did not give in to that temptation.

The singer, who is best known in Scotland for her work with the Dunedin Consort, presented a programme that began and ended in the 16th century, with the music of John Dowland and covered the centuries in between with music setting words from the 16th century, many of them written or inspired by Shakespeare.

It was a very thoughtful and varied programme showcasing a voice whose rich low notes are a rare treat on the modern concert platform, designed to demonstrate that her talent extends well beyond early choral repertoire.

Perhaps unsurprisingly after such a long lay-off, she did not seem initially relaxed to be facing an audience on her own, the young singer quickly hit her stride the French songs by Ravel, Poulenc, and the Shakespeare-obsessed Hector Berlioz.

His Ballade, The Death of Ophelia, ends wordlessly with plenty of the drama in the hands of Mr Martineau, the most attentive of accompanists.

Robert Schumann’s settings of autobiographical verses by Mary, Queen of Scots preceded a leap to 20th-century composers and theatrical settings of the speeches of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth by Joseph Horovitz, two of American Dominick Argento’s settings of Elizabethan poetry, and three of Korngold’s of songs from Shakespeare’s plays.

The Broadway flavour of those could have been the perfect way to end, but the musicians added a coda of farewell with Dowland’s Now, O Now I Needs Must Part.

They were, however, not permitted to leave without being cheered to the rafters.

The audience may have been limited in size but it clapped with enthusiasm until told to stop for a photograph to commemorate the occasion.