Music review: Dunedin Consort, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Balancing gentle comedy with moments of poignant reflection, this was a wonderfully buoyant, tender account of Handel’s “little opera” Acis and Galatea, writes David Kettle

The Dunedin Consort
The Dunedin Consort

Dunedin Consort: Acis and Galatea, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh *****

You know how it goes: nymph meets shepherd; nymph loses shepherd when he’s killed by a monster with a massive rock in a fit of jealous rage. In truth, the plot of Handel’s Ovid-inspired Acis and Galatea – a pint-sized piece that he affectionately termed his “little opera”, and which has been staged variously as a masque, an oratorio, a fully acted-out opera, a straight concert and everything in between – is indeed “disarmingly simple”, as Dunedin Consort Artistic Director John Butt diplomatically termed it in his characteristically illuminating programme notes.

And, truth be told, the 16-person Dunedin forces – with soloists doubling as nimble chorus, and a miniature-sized band providing brilliantly vivid musical backdrops – had a lot of fun with some of the work’s more far-fetched eccentricities (as did Handel himself, it has to be said). Christopher Purves and Nicholas Scott made quite a double act as the monster Polyphemus and his hectoring sidekick Corridon, Scott drawing nicely observed comic attention to the verbiage of Handel’s da capo aria form, and Purves purring and growling his way through stand-out aria “O ruddier than the cherry” in a manner that barely kept his lascivious attentions towards Rachel Redmond’s Galatea this side of sexual harassment. In orchestral terms, too, there was surely a mischievous glint in the eye of Oonagh Lee as she chirruped her birdsong way teasingly through “Hush, ye pretty warbling quire” on sopranino recorder to distract our heroine from her lover.

But alongside the evident wit and mischief, this was a wonderfully buoyant, tender account, and one full of authentic emotion – from the unforced directness of Redmond’s silvery Galatea to Dunedin Associate Director Nicholas Mulroy’s vulnerable, thoughtful Acis. Held aloft by Butt’s brisk tempos and sharply etched textures, this was an Acis and Galatea that balanced its gentle comedy with a more poignant reflection on the transience of all things, not least love. A bittersweet joy from start to finish.