First published in The Herald on 8 February, 2015
There was something tremendously uplifting about walking into the Glad Cafe — that cheery multi-arts space/community cafe in Glasgow’s Southside — and encountering a bloke wielding a baroque trumpet at the bar. In terms of getting early music out of the concert hall and into a space that appeals to a different crowd, John Butt and the Dunedin Consort couldn’t have chosen a more convivial setting. Roughly half of the audience had never been to a Dunedin concert before. Later the same night the Glad hosted a Seattle punk band.
True, the venue is so acoustically dry that few baroque musicians could make a performance here sound decent. There’s zero reverberant cushion and the audience is close enough to hear every glitch. With period instruments, there tends to be plenty of glitches. But the Dunedins sounded very decent indeed, balancing gutsy panache and pristine, shapely definition in Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite. Cantatas 165 and 31 featured excellent singing from Matthew Brook, Thomas Hobbs, Rachel Redmond and Clare Wilkinson. Only Joanne Lunn’s soprano was too loud and demonstrative for the room and the rest of the ensemble.
This being Butt, the evening was in fact a kind of experiential period performance: a re-enactment of concerts hosted by Bach himself at Leipzig’s Zimmermannsche Kaffehaus every Friday from 1729. Coffee culture was central to the intellectual flowering of Enlightenment Europe, and on that note Butt invited the pop music historian Simon Frith to deliver a short lecture. Frith mused engagingly on how Bach made music a common space for his audiences and performers; as coffee was passed around, audience debating and performers propping up the bar, something of that common space came alive here.