Tag Archives: Matthew Truscott

RSNO & Dunedin Consort/Chan

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

The first noise of Friday night’s performance of Beethoven’s Fifth by the RSNO and Elim Chan was not those famous four notes, but the stomp of the diminutive Principal Guest Conductor’s boot on the podium as she laid down the beat.

I imagine she may regret that, but it was an early indication of how she would serve the symphony: at pace, with a rigorous precise rhythm, and utterly magisterial control of the dynamics of the work.

The way the conductor presented the Beethoven, including a last-minute reduction in the size of the orchestra from the strength in the published programme, was the result of the musical discussion the concert was all about. It was the first in a new three-year partnership between the RSNO and Edinburgh’s Dunedin Consort, so ticket-buyers heard two bands for the price of one.

At the heart of the programme was the work that had given birth to the collaboration, Echo-Fragmente by clarinettist Jorg Widmann, the orchestra’s “Musician in Focus” this season. Written for celebrations of Mozart’s 250th anniversary in Freiburg, the score calls for a modern orchestra tuned to current pitch of A=440 alongside a period band playing at baroque pitch, with the virtuoso clarinet soloist (Widmann himself here as well as at the 2006 premiere) using extended multiphonic and note-bending techniques to straddle both worlds.

If that sounds demanding, it is not the half of it, with all sorts of aural adventures in the work’s fragmentary structure – and much of it a great deal less tiring to listen to than that probably sounds.

Widmann’s own playing was extraordinary, but his writing is just as original. The work began with an unlikely trio of himself, Pippa Tunnell’s harp and Dunedin guitarist Sasha Savaloni on slide mandolin, and used all sorts of interesting combinations of instruments in its 20 minutes, those three joined by Lynda Cochrane’s Celeste and Djordje Gajic’s accordion in a central unit between the RSNO players and the Dunedin on either side of the stage.

Specific moments seared themselves into the consciousness, including the soloist’s combining with four RSNO clarinets, including bass and contrabass instruments, in a resonant chorale, and his virtuosic soloing (sounding like more than one player himself0, accompanied by the low strings of the period band.

The four natural horn players of the Dunedin were required to become a big band trombone section in tone at one point, which was in marked contrast to their earlier appearance in Haydn’s Symphony No 39 in G Minor. In the Consort’s performance which opened the programme, they stood with their instruments vertical, bells upwards, as contemporary images suggest was 18th century practice. Directed by first violin Matthew Truscott, the smaller group filled the Usher Hall with beautifully textured sound, lovely string phrasing in the Andante second movement, and skipping dance beats in the Trio before the stormy Finale, which surely prefigures Beethoven.

Likewise, Chan’s attention was on every detail of the Fifth, with the dynamics of her interpretation turning on a dime. That was obvious from the first movement but rarely does the Scherzo become quite as sotto voce as the RSNO did here, the tension palpable before the explosion into the Finale.

It is often noted that the work of historically informed performance groups like the Dunedin Consort has in turn informed the way modern symphony orchestras go about playing music of previous centuries. With this new collaboration, audiences can hear exactly what that means in one evening. There are other fascinating works in the pipeline for them to present together in an exercise in mutual appreciation that is a win-win for audiences as well.

Keith Bruce

Repeated this evening (Saturday, October 29) at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Rehearsal picture by Jessica Cowley

Dunedin Consort / Butt

Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh

There can have been few occasions when Scots devotees of the countertenor voice have been able to hear three examples of the unique timbre of such singing in as many weeks. Yet, following Lawrence Zazzo and Matt Paine in the opera roles of Oberon in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Refugee in Jonathan Dove’s Flight, the Dunedin Consort’s 25th birthday concert featured a superb performance by James Hall in works by a composer to whom both 20th century works owe a debt, Henry Purcell.

In a programme curated by the leader of the instrumental ensemble, Matthew Truscott, the choice of the three Purcell Odes in which Hall’s voice figured prominently to mark the anniversary might have been lyrically appropriate – hymning the patron saint of music and celebrating the late 17th century birthdays of Purcell’s royal patrons – but did amount to missionary work for even informed lovers of early music. It was often best not to pay too close attention to the nonsense the singers were required to spout, and give full concentration to the notes, as well as the clever way Truscott’s choices – directed from the harpsichord by the incisive and precise John Butt – built the concert’s musical momentum.

The appetiser for the ensemble pieces was Purcell’s brief setting of John Dryden’s Music for a While, sung in perfectly pure tones by soprano Julia Doyle, before Hall was to the fore in the Ode that gave the recital its title, Welcome to all the Pleasures. With Christopher Fishburn’s text taking a very personal approach to praising St Cecilia, we had then heard the best of the poetry, married to some startlingly daring harmonies for the era, tenor Thomas Hobbs and bass Robert Davies also crucial solo voices, the latter intoning the saint’s name memorably at the work’s close.

The challenge of the opening line of the following work, Why, why are all the muses mute?, is met by Purcell rather than the anonymous librettist, with the instrumental “Symphony” that followed including one of those melodies that has found a recurring home in modern popular music and turns out to have been the work of England’s early music genius.

With fine solos for the male voices, the Ode also contains captivating duet writing, concluding with one pairing Davies with fellow bass baritone Edward Grint.

Alongside its prowess in recordings as well as in concert, a significant development in the work of the Dunedin in its quarter century has been to give instrumental music its due alongside the choral work. Handel’s Suite in D for solo trumpet and strings and the first of Corelli’s Opus 6 Concerti Grossi were territory more often explored, with a perfect balance between Paul Sharp’s natural trumpet and the ensemble in the former. The Corelli may be far from virtuosic but it was a lovely showcase for Truscott’s string ensemble.

A trumpet fanfare opened the Purcell Arise my Muse with which the programme triumphantly ended, the choir boosted to eight voices and winds joining the band. The line between recitative and aria is hard to draw in much of this music, and Hobbes, in his filigree soloing, and Hall, in combination with the pair of recorders, made the most of that ambiguity in their contributions – but it was the sound of the massed forces (all 20 of them!) in the excellent Greyfriars’ acoustic that was the chief birthday treat.

The concert is repeated at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery this evening.

Keith Bruce

Pictured: Countertenor James Hall