Lammermuir: Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective

North Esk Church, Musselburgh/Dirleton Kirk

The rich and varied menu of 2023’s Lammermuir Festival had an especially tasty ingredient in the East Lothian residency of ten musicians of the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective. It does not appear especially inspired at first, but rarely has a group been so well-named – for its range, its speciality, and its ethos – in those three words.

Although the other demands of their individual careers must limit the rehearsal time together, the communication between these players when they assemble on the platform – in combinations from a trio to a nonet that never repeated itself once over three programmes and eleven fascinating works (excluding encores) – was a constant delight to watch as well as hear.

That repertoire ran from Mozart and Stamitz to a world premiere in Nicola LeFanu’s After Ferrera, which was written for horn player Ben Goldscheider, but often as much of a showcase for cellist Laura van der Heijden. Her role throughout was as key to the success of these performances as those of violinist Elena Urioste and pianist Tom Poster, who co-ordinate the group.

But everyone involved stepped up at some point. Savitri Grier completed the trio for the LeFanu in Dirleton, and was first violin for Schubert’s wonderful Octet in Musselburgh, a beautifully structured account of one the most substantial masterpieces of chamber music. Clarinettist Matthew Hunt was the lead voice in much of that piece, and also key to Dohnanyi’s Sextet in the ensemble’s opening programme, which culminated in the Nonet by Samuel Coleridge- Taylor that Kaleidoscope has played a huge part in popularising.

The Dohnanyi – which literally sent the audience singing into the afternoon sun at the interval – was the first example of a significant strand in the repertoire played. Alongside Britten’s oboe-led Phantasy Quartet No 2, Reynaldo Hahn’s wonderfully elegant Piano Quintet, Poulenc’s Trio for oboe, bassoon and piano, and Korngold’s magnificent 1930 Suite, commissioned by one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, it dated from the years between the wars of the last century.

Much of this music was as new to the ears of the audience as LeFanu’s piece, but the pioneering Lammermuir ticket-buyers were rewarded with sensational playing of lost gems, and a genuine sense of a shared adventure with an engaging collection of talent. The string section was completed by bassist Ruohua Li and Rosalind Ventris – another core player – on viola, and the double reeds were oboist Armand Djikoloum and bassoonist Amy Harman. Her beautifully rounded tone from that opening Iain Farrington arrangement of Mozart’s Bassoon Quartet onwards made a very eloquent case for her instrument’s voice in chamber music.

The bassoonist was also part of an unlikely “brass section”, with oboe and French horn, that distinguished the last music we heard from Kaleidoscope at Lammermuir this year. It was a Poster arrangement of Mancini’s Moon River for the Dirleton septet, which followed Gershwin encores he had made for the different combinations of players at the Musselburgh recitals.

The versatile pianist had just completed a stunning performance of the left-hand-only part Korngold wrote for Wittgenstein, surely as eloquent a work for the World War 1-injured pianist as Ravel’s famous concerto. Those nods to the Great American Songbook were not simply crowd-pleasers, but matched the period of some of the important scores Kaleidoscope have unearthed, and perhaps suggested a reason they were buried in the first place. 

Keith Bruce

Portrait of Amy Harman by Kaupo Kikkas