Dunedin Consort : Handel’s Messiah

Queens Hall, Edinburgh



Handel composed this sacred oratorio in 1741 to raise money for 3 Dublin charities, his librettist Charles Jennens provided the text compiling verses from the old and new testament to depict the life and death of Jesus and the tragic injustice of his life in order to bring salvation to mankind. Handel was in poor health at the time, but the result was Handel’s most revered oratorio, which was extremely well received from its first performance through to the present day.It has certainly stood the test of time, and provides a welcome refuge from the commercial emphasis of Christmas in our modern times. The music brings this spiritual text an emotional depth and moves us in a way that would be much harder with the text alone. Shifting from major to minor keys, dynamic string parts, and beautiful harmonic progressions. Solo parts follow choral parts, covering the emotional spectrum of hope, melancholy and sorrow, conflict and ultimately celebration and joy of Christ’s resurrection and mankind’s liberation.

The orchestra and choir were relatively small and gave an intimate atmosphere that I quickly adjusted to. The music was performed to a very high standard, conducted and directed by John Butt. Mhairi Lawson the solo soprano was the highlight for me, with her moving arias and relationship with the audience. Rowan Hellier, sang the alto parts with delicate precision and Thomas Walker tenor sang the beautiful ‘comfort ye’ and other arias with sensitivity and poignancy.

David Shipley with his regal bass voice added majesty and richness to the performance. This is an annual event at the Queen’s hall which many no doubt attend year in year out, with such a beautiful piece of music so expertly and sensitively performed, it is surely soul music that is much appreciated at this time of year. FOUR STARS


Reviewer : Sophie Younger

Holly at Christmas

Eden Court – One Touch Theatre


11-13 Dec 2014


Buddy Holly and the Cricketers provided some festive fun and entertainment and certainly got the crowd rocking at Eden Court’s One Touch Theatre. Even though the music was from well before my time, I found I knew most the words and like most people in the audience was singing along and even had a dance in the second half.


The couple next to me said they saw the show last year, so it seems it has become a Christmas tradition for some. As expected they played plenty of Buddy Holly hits such as Peggy Sue, Heartbeat and Oh Boy along with some other classics of the era such as Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Frankie Valli to name a few.


With a talented line up line of actor musicians, who have featured in West End shows such as Buddy and Lennon there was a good mixture of music and comedy and I was quite impressed at the ease that some of the band where able to both sing and play several instruments (sometimes during the same song). They finished off with an exciting & triumphant extended encore,  a medley of songs which really got the blood thumping. All in all, a lively fast paced rock and roll show that will really get you into the Christmas spirit. THREE STARS


Reviewer : Zoe Gwynne

Glasgow Madrigirls: Music and Readings for Advent

Glasgow University Chapel, 7th December, 2014


Glasgow Madrigirls, directed by Katy Cooper and Lavinia Downie, have been going since 2000, and their impact and development is shown by the fact that this concert was standing room only – the chapel was absolutely full. A bit surprising maybe for a programme of medieval lyrics, carols, poems and melodies, but the fresh singing of the choir and the promise of something to lift the spirits on a raw night obviously had appeal. As it turned out, there were plenty moments and elements in the programme that gave real satisfaction and pleasure.



A mix of (mostly) choral settings, with straightforward instrumentation was combined with readings; and the sources were from all over Europe. A lot of careful work had gone into researching and making the selections, and the notes on the printed programme gave a helpful notion of the context. The musical arrangements, the presentation and the balance of the choir (with a preponderance of altos over sopranos) were appealing and effective. There were some fine harmonic effects, and the direction for the most part created a bright, captivating sound in the slightly daunting recesses of the chapel.


One of my particular heroines, the doughty visionary Hildegard of Bingen, featured on two items – an opening antiphon and a lovely setting of her melismatic sequence “O viridissima virga’ – where Mary is praised as a blossoming branch. Other highlights, in a pretty busy programme, were a version of the ‘Cherry Tree Carol’ for two voices, with violin and cello, and also Katy Lavinia Cooper’s setting of ‘Leaves of Life Magnificat’, where Sacha Fullerton was the soloist. It wasn’t always possible to pick out soloists because of the sightlines, but a good proportion of the choir members contributed here, and added to our enjoyment.



The readings, coming in from lectern/pulpits on two sides, were clear and well delivered; but I wished the content and language had been enriched by Scots to a greater extent. There was little need for a ‘version’ of Robert Henryson – though it was great to have him there, and surely again as a deep and humane resource – and if that audience could handle Middle English they could certainly manage undiluted medieval (and slightly later) Scots. We did get the text, and an excellent choral rendering, of William Dunbar’s resounding ‘Rorate celi, desuper’; and there’s more where that came from, as well as in Alexander Scott and Alexander Montgomerie, for example, and in Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross. And for Gaelic, perhaps invite compositions from Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica.


It was good to see a quartet of ‘Madriguys’ in support; maybe occasional ‘Madrigammers’ and ‘Madrigaffers’ are possible too. Done again, with a similar big audience and in the same space, I’d look for modest platform elevation and possibly a bit of sonic lift for the choir. But in any setting this is a group well worthy of support, and praise – as their advent concertb clearly underlined.

Reviewer : Mr Scales



Beethoven Concert: SCO with Francesco Piemontesi (piano)

City Halls, Glasgow December 3rd, 2014

There were a couple of late changes to the programme for this concert – the more significant being the appearance of Olari Elts as conductor for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO), replacing Robin Ticciati, who was unwell. Then there was the perfectly apt substitution of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Op 62 for Webern’s brief Symphony Op 21, with its serial tone row permutations. As it turned out, Elts’ performance was a bravura one, and the inclusion of the Coriolan gave the audience a programme which exactly paralleled the original première of all three main Beethoven pieces – adding the Piano Concerto No 4 in G, Op 58 and his Symphony No 4 in B Flat, Op 60 – which were first performed at a private concert for Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz in March 1807.

The Estonian conductor took control of the Coriolan in good style, and the SCO’s handling of the interplay between the two main themes, one more aggressive, one tender, set us up for more intricate extensions of sharply contrasting moods in the two longer pieces that followed. At one point I wondered if the chamber orchestra’s resources might be adequate for the big acoustic space of City Halls; but with some augmentation of the strings for the concerto and symphony this concern was set aside.

The performance of the Swiss-Italian, Francesco Piemontese in the 4th Piano Concerto was impressive from the outset. Never showy, he appeared relaxed throughout, emphatic when called for, and his tonal control was always attractively aligned with the SCO’s responsive playing. Beethoven’s idiosyncracies come through – critics have pointed to an almost improvisational style, with bold shifts in various aspects – key, tonic, dynamic – all of which the soloist, conductor and orchestra conveyed with spirit: from slow emergence and fluttering hesitation and embellishment to free-flowing, radiant energy. That old rascal, Castiglione used the word sprezzatura to describe “an easy facility in accomplishing difficult actions which hides the conscious effort that went into them”. Castiglione had scheming courtiers in mind; but this fine word for skill applied with apparent nonchalance catches Piemontesi’s playing precisely.

When the pianist returned for an encore, he happily teamed with the SCO guest leader Shunske Sato to give a restrained and sensitive rendering of (I think – my memory’s playing tricks!) the 2nd movement – adagio molto espressivo – of Beethoven’s Sonata no 5 for piano and violin. Anyway – a fine adagio duet. The 4th Symphony paced sweetly and slowly in, and then shifted to the suddenly contrasting elements we were by now expecting: sustained solemnity broken with crashing chords and hints of menace, pianissimo passages, sunny and cheery vitality, premonition, uncertainty, followed by another headlong tilt. The second movement opens with a lovely, dying fall: here and throughout all the orchestral sections and Adrian Bending on the kettle drums, were especially effective. he raised tempi in the third and fourth movements seemed to suit Elst; the mix of charm and sombre recollection, rich tones moving into something more restive – though still carrying –  were freshly conveyed. For the close, everything was exerted: the chase went from sanguine to discordant, from hectic to clear determination. But whatever was being pursued, we were carried right along – and never lost sight of it. FOUR STARS


Reviewer : Mr Scales