Review: Dunedin Consort at East Neuk 2015

First published in The Herald on 6 July, 2015

Relaxed, boisterous and a little bit raucous, John Butt and the Dunedin Consort made an overdue East Neuk debut at Cambo Barn — an industrial potato shed cum festival staple for larger ensemble concerts. This year the venue had added feature of farmyard-chic tattie crates lining the back of the stage, which if anything seemed to improve acoustics.

The concert paired Bach’s Hunt Cantata with the first of Handel’s Water Music suites, plus a handful of arias lifted from various Handel operas and oratorios. The cantata’s text had been accidentally left out the programme so Butt gave us a superbly irreverent précis of the “non-story” instead. The Dunedins should omit texts more often; Butt’s stand-up synopses are worth the ticket price alone.

The cantata opened with an early version of the first movement of Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto, tacked on — as is sometimes done — as introductory Sinfonia. The hunting horns were heroically ballsy, swinging the cross-rhythms to make the music really dance, and the breezy charisma from all players on stage made for lively, conversational music making. Sure, the odd start of a movement was loose around the edges, but give me spirited cheer over squeaky-clean sobriety in this repertoire any day.

Handel’s Water Music sounded lush, opulent and laid-back, music penned for a king’s grandiose flotilla on the Thames. Interspersed were four arias: mezzo Daniela Lehner was warm-voiced and gently sassy in La Speranza e giunta in porto from Ottone, David Shipley burly in Sorge una infausta procella from Orlando, Mhairi Lawson spry and stylish in Giulio Cesare’s Da tempeste. Highlight was a heartrendingly tender, clear-voiced Thus when the Sun from Nicholas Mulroy as Samson.