Music review: Dunedin Consort/Nicholas Mulroy, Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh

CALLING your concert “Music of loss and consolation” hardly makes it sound like a bundle of laughs. But in fact, there was plenty to inspire and uplift in this ravishing mix of Spanish Renaissance and contemporary works from the Dunedin Consort, in an all-choral incarnation of 13 voices directed by Nicholas Mulroy. Not least, the group’s sheer vocal elan, which ran through the whole eclectic programme like a thread, precise and focused even in complex passages, exquisitely balanced with a constant shifting emphasis on the music’s intertwining vocal lines, capable of ear-splitting power yet the subtlest of inflections too. Mulroy is a respected tenor himself, and his direction was assured and expertly judged: at times he appeared to leave the singers to their own devices, while at others he goaded them with urgent gestures to ever greater expressivity.

Conductor Nicholas Mulroy
Conductor Nicholas Mulroy

Dunedin Consort/Nicholas Mulroy, Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh *****

Victoria’s 1603 Requiem provided the concert’s framework, segued smoothly into from the Requiem aeternam plainsong as the singers processed into Canongate Kirk, and its movements interspersed among the concert’s more modern works. Among those, James MacMillan’s aching A Child’s Prayer, written as a memorial to the victims of the Dunblane school shooting, was immensely powerful in its angry defiance, and things reached a furious climax in the angular, dissonant O Saviour of the World by Roderick Williams (another star singer). Respite came from Cecilia McDowell’s piquant, perfumed Standing as I do before God, though Judith Bingham’s war-themed Watch with me was perhaps less convincing in its broad-ranging storytelling. Nonetheless, it was an exceptional evening of music, deeply thoughtful, compassionate and nourishing.