Classical review: SCO, Dunbar Parish Church

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THIS year’s Lammermuir Festival got off to a cracking start with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and conductor Joseph Swensen delivering an adrenaline-fuelled performance in the recently refurbished Dunbar Parish Church.

Now more like a high-ceilinged village hall than a church inside, the lively acoustics added impetus to the music, particularly Beethoven’s Overture Coriolan.

Like a sorcerer mixing a magic potion, Swenson blended his forces well, with the rippling cellos providing a sinister undercurrent to this dramatic work.

The warm, languid string tone also suited Kodaly’s evocative Summer Evening, a sumptuous orchestra piece full of folk-tinged melodies and shot through with sultry cor anglais solos.

SCO principal horn, Alec Frank-Gemmill, is also artist-in-residence at Lammermuir this year. Looking thrilled to be standing in front of the orchestra for a change, he gave a stunning performance of Strauss’ Horn Concerto No1 Op11. Although the jaunty first and last movements draw heavily on hunting themes, in the slow movement Frank-Gemmill had a chance to show off the horn’s variety of tonal colours.

Beethoven had the last word in this concert with his Symphony No 4 in B flat Major. Although there were moments when the music felt rushed – particularly in the scherzo where some of the syncopated rhythms lost their razor-sharp edge – overall the sheer exuberance of Swensen and the orchestra were irresistible.

Rating: * * * *