Dunedin Consort/Butt, Perth Concert Hall, four stars

WHEN the latest programme from Scotland’s Dunedin Consort reaches London’s Wigmore Hall on its short tour, superlatives may well be deployed. It was already very good at this first performance, with the ensemble’s home gig in Edinburgh still to come.

Director John Butt has looked at the history of Bach’s appointment at Thomaskantor in Leipzig 300 years ago and created an evening of music, some of it precisely dated to performances in February 1724. Alongside three cantatas by Johann Sebastian himself, there is music from the two other composers the Leipzig city fathers approached before Bach got the job: Christoph Graupner and Georg Philipp Telemann.

The story the concert told contrived to illustrate both why those men were preferred and how fate decreed that Leipzig won a watch. Although Butt required just four top-rank singers to do that, it took 14 versatile instrumentalists – including himself – to complete the tale. The result may be the most compelling combination of both sides of the Dunedin’s work yet.

A small group of eight string players, led by Huw Daniel, began the evening for Graupner’s rhythmic, multi-movement “Ouverture”, with principal viola John Crockatt moving to the front of the stage for Telemann’s G major Viola Concerto on the path to the first of the Bach, scored for four violas, with a pair of recorders, bassoon and chamber organ.

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“Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee von Himmel fallt” (Just as the rain and snow fall from heaven) opens with an instrumental evocation of that opening line. The cantata after the interval continued the meteorological theme, beginning with the story in Matthew’s gospel of Jesus sleeping in the fishermen’s boat as a storm raged around him. Its Aria before the closing Chorale, sung by soprano Julia Doyle, was a highlight of the evening.

There are more memorable settings of Psalm 100 in both English and Latin (as Jubilate Deo), than Telemann’s German one, but the final Alleluja, introducing a trumpet to partner bass Matthew Brook, made it the ideal stepping stone to Bach’s “Leichtgesinnte Flattergeister” (Scatterbrained frivolous people) which closed the evening, Brook having immense fun with a range of dynamic ways to deliver those German words.

There was some superb continuo playing from the keyboards and low strings too, and expressive solo violin from Daniel to accompany tenor Nicholas Mulroy’s brief aria, before the closing hymn, taken at the sort of pace Butt favours, and Bach surely intended.