Greyfriar’s Kirk, Edinburgh
At the heart of this superb recital was a rare performance of the Renaissance cantata Bella madre de’ fiori, attributed to Alessandro Scarlatti. Expressing the existential predicament of the nymph Clori, it is a virtuoso masterpiece, whoever actually wrote it, and it had the finest performance here from soprano Rowan Pierce with four string players of the Dunedin Consort and director John Butt at the harpsichord. The instrumental writing is lovely and was beautifully played, and the vocal line, with its mix of aria and recitative, while technically demanding, was delivered in relaxed style by Pierce, her breath control and phrasing quite immaculate.
If she was the obvious star turn of the concert – just as assured in Handel’s Hush, ye pretty warbling choir, from Acis and Galatea, and the closing Sweet Bird, from L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato – there was quality everywhere in the ensemble. On the first of these her foil was the sopranino recorder of Oonagh Lee, while the latter was a duet with flautist Katy Bircher that might have been a baroque version of Billie Holiday’s partnership with saxophonist Lester Young.
The instrumental music continued the theme of the inspiration of flora and fauna, the most familiar being a revelatory take on Autumn from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, with leader Huw Daniel the violin soloist. Professor Butt had his own particular approach to the work, of course, which cast a very sceptical eye on the regular rhythmic pulse that is imposed on it by some well-known 20th century recordings.
Daniel was in his element with the sonic effects of Telemann’s Frog Violin Concerto earlier in the programme, and the whole ensemble showed off its versatility in the various contrasting moods of the same composer’s ten movement Wassermusik, which kicked things off. While the natural world was one link between all the works, most were also very specific character studies, and those figures were depicted with the most meticulous musical eloquence.
It is just as important to say that this attention to detail applied to every element of the presentation. We are in a whole new world of work for groups like the Dunedins and this online project was exemplary. Filmed by Leith-based Arms & Legs, it was beautifully lit and the sound balance showcased the richness of the ensemble as well as capturing the soloists perfectly. The theme of the concert was also contextualised over two nights with discussion of the environmental issues facing musicians now, and thoughts on what the relationship between these early compositions and nature can teach us. This new way of consuming music we are being propelled into has its own riches to appreciate.
Image: Rowan Pierce ©Gerard Collett