The Lammermuir Festival, under the patronage of Steven Osborne, is East Lothian’s answer to a night of high culture on the town, but scattered amongst the splendidly carved architectural delights of Scotland’s greenest county jewel. Over the weekend, I managed to catch a couple of this year’s outings; the opening concert by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in the antique, cavernous & elegant parish church of St Mary’s in Haddington; & the much smaller, but equally as pretty-a-place-to-be church that is Dirleton Kirk. Both events were packed out & both selections of music were outstanding, as walls & rooves made to reflect choirs & ministerial preachings were all set to amplify & imbue with beauty the dancings of the reeds & strings.
At St Mary’s on the Friday, I was furnish’d with a fine three-course feast all cooked up for our delectation by conducting master-chef, Martyn Brabbins. For starters we had two slices of Wagner; The Prelude & Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, both of which leapt upon the delicious acoustics of the kirk like young & playful embattling stags. As soon as the Prelude began we were all rooted to the spot, the music wafting over us as if fanning our cheeks on a warm summer’s eve. This opener – to both opera & festival – then grows in intensity until the cosmic, oversensual climax, & we were off, the Lammermuir Festival of 2017 was under way.
The next course consisted of three arias by Mozart, exceptionally sung by the young & meteorically rising talent that is soprano, Rowan Pierce. A Samling artist, she had won the first Schubert Society Singer prize at the London Song Festival in 2014, & one soon understood why as the ghosts of choirboys past lifted her angelically jasmine voice to the rafters & beyond. After an interval of exquisite honeycomb ice-cream & polite chitter-chatter, the third course was served, Mahler’s sleigh-bell jangling, soul-pounding four-part Symphony Number 4. Each of the four movements were played with both neat precision & piece-specific bombast, & the hour simply flew by upon electric wings.
The next night I drove for the first time to Dirleton, a wondrous little place, rather like a Mendips village, quite untouched by modernity, in whose kirk I would be nestling for a while. The reason was to be the Hebrides Ensemble, eight extremely talented musicians who would make Schubert’s Octet in F Major their own. Prior to this was a wee waltz though the short Rhapsodic Quintet of enigmatic 20th century composer, Herbert Howells. One can really feel the burgeoning century’s love-affair with new music in his notes, all of which are most serendipitous to hear. To listen to this particular piece is to enter a dream-bending drama, a darkly dancing-carousel & an exceptional exposition of the full range & capabilities of the Quintet.
To the main action, then, & the Octet – a brazen attempt to out-Beethoven Beethoven – offers the hearer a growing & continuous delight. The opening note drills a hole into the psyche, through which pours wave after wave of Schubert’s melodic genius. Sometimes eyes were closed, sometimes they were gazing at the buttermilk walls, sometimes they were watching Enno Senft wield his double-bass like a medieval potter’s wheel. I felt my imagination hurrying through time to the dances of Regency England, & recreating the dance moves of gallant lords & passionate ladies in my mind. From the Allegro Vivace onwards, this Octet is near perfect, almost otherworldly in its brilliance, full of fluttering phrases & feet-thumping rhythms. Combine all this musical manna with the location & an ephemeral 80 minutes, then a simply wonderful time is had by all.
This was my first taste of the Lammermuir Festival, & I recommend it most heartily. East Lothian is a fascinating & quite frankly gorgeous corner of God’s green earth, & an excuse to wander its contours is to be well-received. Mix into this several heady portions of classical music excellently chosen, excellently played & most warmly appreciated, then one cannot fail in feeling rather exultant about life. Indeed, one could fall in love on evenings like these.
The Lammermuir Festival (September 15-24)