The Closing Concert of the Lammermuir Festival took place in the historic St. Mary's Parish Church, Haddington – the site of John Knox's ordination as a Catholic priest, some years before the volte face which saw him spearheading the Scottish Reformation. An all-Baroque programme was presented by the Dunedin Consort, animatedly directed from the keyboard by John Butt. A noted baroque scholar and author, Butt also provided excellent programme notes on the evening's pieces.

© Dunedin Consort
© Dunedin Consort

Two contrasting Bach Motets framed the first half. The repeated, monosyllabic, plosive opening of Komm, Jesu, komm BWV229 sized up this locally famous acoustic. The words in the text are those of a world weary supplicant, the extent of whose spiritual fatigue is heard in the lines, “haste my life its course to finish” and “Yet my soul now well prepared. It shall beside its maker hover.” The minor key and gentle triple meter ensure that the effect comes across. Singet dem Herrn BWV225, setting a much more extrovert expression of praise and thanksgiving, opts for a more up-tempo, major key, triple meter. The clarity and blend of the eight voices used in these items was impressive and showed Bach's matchless counterpoint off to best effect. I found myself wondering about my own authentic listening credentials. Delighted as I am with period instruments and baroque pitch, I sometimes find myself yearning for just a few more voices. By this I don't mean Mahlerian proportions - perhaps three to a part.

Bach, the great recycler, was evident in the evening's only instrumental work, his Double Violin Concerto in D minor BWV1043. Those who don't know the version for two keyboards might wonder how the interweaving soloists' lines of its central, major key Largo ma no tanto would fare in that setting. This evening's lyrical and expressive soloists, Cecilia Barnardini and Rebecca Livermore, struck a perfect balance of blend and separation by standing as far apart as I've seen in this work – allowing the building to play its part in the soundscape. The jubilant outer movements were delivered with sufficient panache to throw into question the major-minor/happy-sad dictum. This was a well placed instrumental sorbet between the motet courses.

The sole work in the second half, Handel's Dixit Dominus (1707) is an extremely accomplished work for a 22-year old. Director, John Butt cites the closing Gloria as “perhaps the most virtuoso choral display of his (Handel's) career.” Like many Old Testament texts, the words of Psalm 110 contain several promises of violence and wrath – lifelong friends of vigorous Baroque composition. One port in the vengeful storm is the vocal duet, De torrente in via bibet which, in this performance, was simply beautiful. In addition to gripping choral passages, the work features soloists and the three listed soloists were in fine voice: Susan Hamilton (soprano); Margot Oitzinger (alto) and Nicholas Mulroy (tenor). There was also a fantastic passage for solo bass. This heroic voice is not listed among the soloists so let me simply say, “hats off to either William Townend or Simon Gallear!” This performance with 10 singers, backed by 11 instrumentalists constituted an excellent second half to the concert and a rousing way to bring down the curtain on what has been an excellent Lammermuir Festival 2011.