Music review: SCO, Richard Egarr & Carolyn Sampson, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Carolyn Sampson reduced the Queen's Hall to stunned silence. Picture: Marco Borggeve/ SCO
Carolyn Sampson reduced the Queen's Hall to stunned silence. Picture: Marco Borggeve/ SCO
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WITH a hearty, pantomime-style “Good evening!” to kick off proceedings – energetically reciprocated by the enthusiastic audience – conductor Richard Egarr made it clear his concert with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra was going to be an evening of theatre.

SCO, Richard Egarr & Carolyn Sampson, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh *****

And there was plenty of flamboyant drama to be savoured in the “bunch of my favourite stuff” (as he described it) he’d selected from Purcell’s The Fairy Queen – from prancing monkeys to sprightly fairies and lusty haymakers. Egarr’s fizzing energy continued in the work’s more abstract symphonies and overtures, all dispatched with in high-definition, high-contrast accounts and a spirited spring in their step, Egarr urging the SCO players on from astride a piano stool in front of his harpsichord.

What stole the show, however – in fact, what stole virtually the whole evening – was the limpid, bell-like soprano of Carolyn Sampson, pure and precise in four of The Fairy Queen’s songs, among which the tragic, sobbing “O let me weep” – accompanied by just Egarr, Matthew Wadsworth’s tasteful theorbo and Benjamin Marquise Gilmore’s finely turned violin – left a stunned silence in the hall.

Sampson returned after the interval for three songs from Handel’s Semele, her prancing dance with a hand mirror in “Myself I shall adore” displaying a knowing sense of wit, alongside astonishing vocal control in a line fairly dripping with ornaments. A grand Music for the Royal Fireworks high on sonic splendour made for an explosive close to what had been an exceptional evening.

DAVID KETTLE