Classical music on the Fringe

First published in The Herald on 9 August, 2017

The International Festival series at the newly re-opened St Cecilia’s Hall is totally sold out — unsurprising given the room only seats 200 — but you can experience the museum’s stunning historical instruments and the gem that is the oval concert hall in five concerts hosted by the Friends of St Cecilia’s, starting today with keyboardists John Kitchen and David Gerrard playing music by Francois and Louis Couperin on the ultimate 1769 Taskin harpsichord. (St Cecilia’s Hall, August 9, 12, 16, 19 & 23, 3pm.)

If you’re missing soprano Anna Dennis as part of the superb Monteverdi operas coming to the International Festival next week (or even if you’re not), hear her in recital tomorrow: she’s joined by Owen Willetts (countertenor) and Tom Foster (harpsichord) for a programme of Baroque arias, cantatas and duetti da camera by Durante, Geminiani, Handel and Scarlatti. (St Andrews and St Georges West, August 10, 430pm.)

Players from the Palestine Youth Orchestra join the Edinburgh International Youth Orchestra to perform two concerts together at Greyfriars Kirk. Sian Edwards conducts an all-Russian programme: Shostakovich’s Festive Overture, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with the Cuban pianist Daniel Rodriguez Hart as soloist. (Greyfriars Kirk, August 10-11, 730pm.)

Two chances to catch the National Youth Choir of Scotland this Saturday: the girls sing music by James MacMillan, Paul Mealor and Judith Weir then they are joined by the choir’s full forces to perform the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms, with accompaniment from the cathedral’s Rieger organ. (St Giles Cathedral, August 12, 730pm & 930pm.)

Over at Greyfriars Kirk, another chance to hear Brahms’s Requiem sung by the excellent Scottish vocal ensemble Cadenza. Also on their programme is Rheinberger’s sublime double-choir Mass in E flat, Cantus Missae, and a selection of Monteverdi motets. (Greyfriars Kirk, August 26, 8pm.)

On the subject of requiems, the St Andrew Camerata (choir and orchestra) return to the Fringe for an 11th year running with a late-night candlelit performance of Faure’ Requiem plus his Cantique de Jean Racine. (St Patrick’s Church, August 12 & 19, 10pm.)

Tucked behind the Usher Hall on Castle Terrace, artSpace@StMarks is doing a decent line in concerts this festival. One programme that caught my eye is a performance by the Scottish pianist Elspeth Wyllie that includes Elgar’s own piano transcription of his orchestral Enigma Variations. (artSpace@StMarks, August 11, 1230pm.)

The programming at Canongate Kirk typically features Bach, Bach and more Bach: even if you missed last week’s excellent annual Ludus Baroque B Minor Mass, you can still catch plenty of ensemble and solo recitals. The Bach Ensemble of Edinburgh give two concerts: the first includes Bach’s Cantata Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten with Electra Lochhead (Soprano); three concertos from Vivaldi’s fiery L’Estro Armonico with soloists Robert Dick, Claire Docherty, Simon Graham, Sheena Jardine and Kirsty Main, and Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in A with the venerable Richard Beauchamp. The second includes Bach’s Second Orchestral Suite and Fifth Brandenburg Concerto and three more of the L’Estro Armonico concertos. (Canongate Kirk, August 14 & 17, 730pm.)

For solo recitals at Canongate, try the Hungarian violinist Tamás Fejes, assistant leader of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, who recently recorded Bach’s solo sonatas and partitas and plays some of them here including the towering Chaconne. (Canongate Kirk, August 13 & 20, 2pm.) Other chances to hear Scotland’s top orchestral musicians in solo setting include the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s principal cellist Philip Higham – a terrific chamber and solo player – performing some of Bach’s solo cello suites. (St Mary’s Cathedral, August 13, 830pm.)

It wouldn’t be the Fringe without weird marketing ploys and bad innuendo. You’ll find concerts called Voyages a Trois and The Sound of Sax; one pitch that left me pondering its sheer incongruity comes from the Korean piano quartet Ensemble Kla_Vier: Four Men, Four Pianos. “Classically trained since young ages in Europe,” we’re told, “these four pianists seek their identities using what they are most familiar with – sharps and flats. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to witness the latest groundbreaking innovation from Korea, the land of superfast internet and fancy smartphones.” First and possibly last time I’ll be sold a concert based on a nation’s smartphone prowess. (St Giles Cathedral, August 9-10, 1215pm.)

There is another chance to hear The Last Post – a moving work by Alistair MacDonald with trumpeter Tom Poulson. Set in the round, the music weaves in love letters written by Poulson’s grandfather from the WW2 front line with electronics reflecting the technology and sounds of the era. (Army @ The Fringe in Association with Summerhall, Aug 17-20 & 22.)

For opera on the Fringe, try Opera Bohemia’s production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers – it’s a fine outfit directed by former Scottish Opera young artist Lissa Lorenzo and featuring soprano Monica McGhee, tenor Thomas Kinch, baritone Douglas Nairne and bass Michael MacKinnon. (St Cuthbert’s Church, August 22, 730pm.) There is also the industrious young Magentic Opera – last year The Herald gave five stars to their production of La Bohème — who return with an English-language production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. (Lauriston Halls, August 23, 25-26, 530pm.)

This year’s Made in Scotland showcase includes last year’s Echoes and Traces, a programme of contemporary choral works in which eight Scottish composers were sent the hymn to St Magnus, Nobilis Humilis, and asked to respond with a work for the 12 voices of Cappella Nova. The results were variable but some are definitely worth hearing again. (Greyfriars Kirk, August 23, 730pm.)

Also part of Made in Scotland, guitarist Sean Shibe presents SoftLOUD: “acoustic and electric, ancient and modern, traditional and innovative,” he promises. Music includes Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, old Scottish tunes, Julia Wolfe’s LAD and Peter Maxwell Davies’s Farewell to Stromness. (The Space, Niddry Street, August 21-26, 8pm.)

And finally, there is plenty of music to be heard for free this Fringe. If you need a breather and a repose, nip into choral evensong sung by the fine choir at Old St Paul’s directed by John Kitchen. (August 13, 20, 27, 630pm.) There are free concerts almost every lunchtime (Monday to Saturday throughout August) at St Mary’s Cathedral – check the website for specific line-ups (August 7-8, 10-12, 14-19, 21-26, 28-31, 110pm) and St Mary’s also offers free organ recitals with Duncan Ferguson, Nicholas Wearne and Joseph Beech on the Cathedral’s mighty Father Willis organ. (August 13 & 20, 1645pm.)

And Live Music Now once again hosts its series of free daily concerts in the Grand Gallery of the National Museum of Scotland. Today’s performers are David Foley and Jack Smedley (guitar/flute/bouzouki/fiddle/bodhran) with a programme designed to complement the museum’s Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites exhibition. Get ye to the museum. (August 6-27, 2pm.)