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Edinburgh International Festival: Queen’s Hall recitals

by
19 August 2022

William Dundas enjoys several very different performances

© Jess Shurte

Performers in The Book of Life, in Edinburgh

Performers in The Book of Life, in Edinburgh

QUEEN’S HALL morning recitals in Edinburgh can often feel like a cultural champagne brunch setting the mood for one’s festival day.

The BBC Singers, conducted by Sofi Jeannin, sang a varied programme with great expressiveness and precision, in which individual voices were seamlessly blended.

This worked very well in the Mass for Double Choir by Frank Martin and Mendelssohn’s Six Motets, Op. 79, and continued with works by Latvian, English, and Norwegian composers.

The focal point of the second half was an arrangement of Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending for violin and choir by Paul Drayton, and expressively played by Laura Samuel. I felt that the sweeping lines of the original had been bloated by the addition of a wordless chorus.


THE BOOK OF LIFE
(European première) is a broad title: the content was in fact very specific, and this was a performance of intense storytelling. The Rwandan genocide was explored in the words of the aggressors and the survivors.

The Rwandan artist and activist Odile Gakire Katese founded her Woman’s Cultural Centre, the Woman Drummers of Rwanda, and together they enacted scenes of anguish, bravery, and hope. Her material was harvested from communal chat sessions, after which participants were encouraged to commit their experiences to paper, which thus became The Book of Life.

The play exposes trauma but seeks to archive life: life in recovery, which, in Rwanda, is a constant struggle. There was much to ponder. This is a co-production with Volcano, Canada, and the Edinburgh International Festival.


THE Dunedin Consort and Nicholas Mulroy (tenor) presented a Queen’s Hall recital of great sophistication and eloquence. John Butt directed from the harpsichord and chamber organ with the instrumentalists Huw Daniel and Kinga Ujszaszi (violins), Reiko Ichise (viola da gamba), and Elizabeth Kenny (theorbo). Each of the instrumentalists gave solos of presence and distinction.

The ensemble showpiece was a Trio Sonata by Dietrich Buxtehude. Mulroy’s singing distinguished the occasion. The two undoubted highlights were his performances of Grandi’s “O intemerata” (“O pure and for ever blessed”), serving as the pinnacle of the recital, and Strozzi’s “Lagrime mie” (“My tears”). It was a fitting close to the programme.

Queen’s Hall recitals are available on BBC Sounds for a limited period.

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