Classical review: Lannermuir Festival

“BEAUTIFUL music in beautiful places” is the Lammermuir Festival’s motto, and it was more than borne out by the event’s opening weekend, which made full use of some of East Lothian’s most picturesque – and, more importantly, musically appropriate – locations.

The Heath Quartets performance in Dirleton Kirk was rich, focused and enthusiastic. Picture: Contributed
The Heath Quartets performance in Dirleton Kirk was rich, focused and enthusiastic. Picture: Contributed

Lammermuir Festival

Various Venues, East Lothian

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Intimate Dirleton Kirk was the venue for the first of the Heath Quartet’s four festival recitals (HHHH), and it provided just the right combination of acoustic richness and focus for the foursome’s equally rich, focused programme.

Their Beethoven “Serioso” Quartet lived up to its nickname – brittle and volatile, it could also give way to sweet lyricism, and in the Heath players’ hands the unexpected major-key conclusion sounded suitably hard-won yet enthusiastic.

There was a winning clarity to their account of Bartók’s thorny Third Quartet, and the big, multi-stopped pizzicatos from cellist Christopher Murray and violist Gary Pomeroy really rang in the Dirleton church acoustic – even if the foursome could have been a bit more indulgent with the composer’s theatrical demands.

Their Schumann Piano Quintet, for which they were joined by pianist Tom Poster, was a joy – brisk and rather clipped, yes, especially in the slow-movement funeral march, but expertly shaped and sparkling nonetheless.

St Mary’s Church in Haddington is a regular Lammermuir venue, but it found an ideal match in the NYCoS Chamber Choir under Christopher Bell (HHHH), who filled the space with a big, broad, passionate performance of the Duruflé Requiem.

There was astonishing depth and power to their sound, yet impeccable precision in their ensemble and diction – you could hear every word in the caressing phrases of the opening Introit, for example. Young soloists Katie Grosset and Arthur Bruce seemed in their element – Bruce’s demanding solo in the Libera Me, in particular, matched restless strength with an effortless smoothness.

Beforehand came what proved to be a revelatory juxtaposition of contemporary composer Arvo Pärt’s hypnotic minimalism (conducted with microscopic attention to detail by Bell) and the effusive ornamentation of French Baroque composer Nicolas de Grigny, played with panache by organist Philip Sawyer.

Audiences got to experience two rooms of sumptuous Winton House, near Pencaitland, in a quirky two-part programme contrasting music ancient and modern (HHHH).

Although there were Canalettos on the wall, the room that housed the Maxwell Quartet wasn’t acoustically flattering to their dramatic performances – but that didn’t seem to put the foursome off in an explosive account of Prokofiev’s Second Quartet.

They preceded it with what was effectively the world premiere of a revised version of the 1987 Fantasy String Quartet by Haddington composer Raymond Dodd – succinct and beautifully crafted, it felt like every note mattered in the Maxwells’ thoughtful performance.

Across the corridor, the four players of Ensemble Marsyas got bassy with Baroque music for bassoon and cello from the likes of Couperin and Boismortier, with some exceptionally fluid playing. Bassoonist Peter Whelan was vivid and supple in a Fasch Sonata, and cellist Sarah McMahon was nimble and characterful in another by Geminiani.

But it was the sparkling interplay between mere accompanists Philippe Grisvard on harpsichord and Thomas Dunford on the orbo that made the foursome’s performances truly shine.

Seen on 15 & 16.09.14