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Podcast: Matthew Passion

The Brandenburgs – The Herald Review

Keith Bruce, The Herald

★★★★

It is as fine an example of Johann Sebastian making a delicious meal of the simplest ingredients as there is, and was followed by a joyous brisk finale by way of dessert.

Read the full review here.

The Brandenburgs – Seen and Heard International Review

Simon Thompson, Seen and Heard International

The orchestral transparency led to an exquisitely balanced unity so that there was never any musical grandstanding, but instead a lovely sense of pulling together.

Read the full review here.

Prom 71 – Bach Night – The Times Review

Neil Fisher, The Times

★★★★

‘There was a frisson from hearing period instruments used in such unexpected ways… [Butt’s] lively tempos produced plenty of lithe, energetic playing, and enough body in the strings to bring the music out into the vastness of the space. ‘

Read the full review here.

Prom 71 – Bach Night – Classical Source Review

Andrew Neill, Classical Source

The Consort, with a strength for the Royal Albert Hall of over forty, provided a glorious, rounded, sound without compromising leanness.

Read the full review here.

Prom 71 – Bach Night – Seen and Heard International Review

Agnes Kory, Seen and Heard International

‘The most astonishing aspect of this concert was the unity of players within each section, and the unity of the newly commissioned Bach companion pieces with their designated Suites… the oneness of the flutes gave an extraordinary demonstration… I heard only one while my eyes saw all three. The virtuoso movements of the Bourrées and the final Badinerie are hard enough for one player but three players blending their virtuosity to such extent is mind-blowing.’

Read the full review here.

Dunedin Consort at the BBC Proms 2019

On 11 September 2019, we return to the Albert Hall stage for ‘Bach Night’ at the BBC Proms, our first appearance since our Proms debut with Bach’s John Passion back in 2017. This time, it’s a wholly orchestral affair, as we perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s four orchestral suites (BWV 1066-69), alongside four new commissions from four of today’s foremost contemporary composers.

The idea springs from founder Henry Wood’s themed nights, which were an early feature in Proms programmes. From 1898, Monday was established as ‘Wagner Night’, and Fridays soon became Beethoven nights. As for ‘Bach Night’ — Henry Wood was one of the earliest champions of Bach’s music in England, and under his direction, all of Bach’s orchestral suites and Brandenburg concertos were heard in the Proms’ first decades. Made up of a series of eighteenth-century dances that explore a kaleidoscopic array of Baroque affects, Bach’s orchestral suites have long been favourites in Dunedin’s repertoire.

So why the new commissions too? When Henry Wood programmed his themed nights all those years ago, he typically included complementary works or his own arrangements alongside these stalwarts of the repertoire. It seems fitting, then, to pay tribute to Wood’s contemporary mindset by pairing Bach’s Suites with the music of today, a reminder of ongoing dialogue between historical and contemporary composers. Whether this is the first time you have heard the suites, or the thirty-first, we hope this will allow you to hear them with fresh ears, that you will hear things differently.

So, in association with the BBC Proms, we have co-commissioned four leading composers — Stuart MacRae, Nico Muhly, Ailie Robertson and Stevie Wishart — to respond to Bach’s suites and compose a new dance for each one ‘in any way they see fit’. In other words, don’t be too surprised if you hear a few modern techniques on these historical instruments. Part of the delight in commissioning these new works is finding out how modern composers explore and respond to period instruments. In fact, almost anything goes, only ‘Bachian pastiche’ was excluded from the brief!

Coming from a background in early music, Nico Muhly has written his Tambourin with allusions to one of Bach’s principal sources of inspiration – the French composer Jean-Phillippe Rameau (1683-1764). Rameau included the tambourin (originally a Provençal dance with an upbeat duple metre) in several of his operas, and Nico’s piece captures a similar essence with a palpable sense of energy.

Two hooded grebes (Image © Michael Webster)

The first half of the concert concludes with a tango – a dance form, yes, although not one that Bach would have known. Stevie Wishart’s piece was inspired by Bach’s first orchestral suite, and brings together the cool, laid-back phrasing of the tango with the precision of Bach’s instrumental writing. Stevie has also incorporated the singing of the Argentinian hooded grebe (Podiceps gallardoi), an astonishingly musical bird — currently at risk of extinction — whose movement resembles something of a ‘bird tango’.

Listen to the hooded grebe here

Perhaps the most famous of Bach’s orchestral suites is the second in B minor, which concludes in the dazzling Badinerie (popularised some years back as Nokia ringtone), scored for flute and string orchestra. Ailie Robertson’s Chaconne has been written as a prelude to this suite, and draws together her background in both classical and Scottish traditional music. Ailie’s chaconne makes use of a repeated harmonic progression, just like eighteenth-century composers such as Bach did.

The last of the four commissions, Stuart MacRae’s Courante is based on a dance form that was developed in the courts of sixteenth-century Italy, before being adopted in in France, and, by Bach’s time, was popular across northern Europe. It involves a series of running and jumping steps, and Stuart’s piece (written as an introduction to Bach’s ebullient Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D Major, which we will be performing last) explores this running in a slow triple metre, heard at a variety of tempi.

Some tickets are still available, so book now to avoid disappointment. If you can’t make it to the Royal Albert Hall, you can listen live on BBC Radio 3.

Dunedin Consort appears in Prom 71: Bach Night at the BBC Proms 2019 on Wednesday 11 September at 7:30pm

Bach Harpsichord Concertos – Edinburgh International Festival – Scotsman Review

Susan Nickalls, The Scotsman
★★★★★

To hear Bach played on an instrument from the world-class collection at St Cecilia’s Hall offers a privileged glimpse into how the composer’s music might have sounded at the time.
…Suzuki’s hands moved seamlessly between the two manuals adding to the drama of this richly scored work. The accompanying period instruments produced a lively orchestral sound centred around the dynamic viola interactions with the harpsichord.

Read the full review here.

Bach Harpsichord Concertos 5 – Edinburgh International Festival – The Scotsman

Carol Main, The Scotsman
★★★★

Possibly, for a concerto soloist, the only thing worse than breaking your glasses just before heading to the platform, is finding out that the glue used to fix them hasn’t worked.

Even in the face of such adversity, the show went on at St Cecilia’s Hall on Tuesday with harpsichordist Richard Egarr valiantly leading instrumentalists of the Dunedin Consort from the solo seat in Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in E major.

Read the full review here

Bach Harpsichord Concertos 1 – Edinburgh International Festival – The Scotsman

Ken Walton, The Scotsman
★★★★

Is there a venue more perfect for this 5-concert series of Bach’s Keyboard Concertos than the intimate 18th century St Cecila’s Hall?

Required to top it off are musicians and performances of equal calibre, which is what began to emerge as duelling harpsichordists Mahan Esfahani and Aapo Häkkinen, along with with members of the Dunedin Consort, opened the series with Bach’s solo Concerto in D and Double Concerto in C minor.

Read the full review here

Bach Harpsichord Concertos 2 – Edinburgh International Festival – The Scotsman

Ken Walton, The Scotsman
★★★★

The “new” material, he added, came from a 1726 cantata bearing the same theme, so the task was to do “what Bach would have done” and “turn it into a harpsichord concerto”. The result was largely convincing, strangely scored (by Bach) for supporting oboe, strings and continuo, but distinctive in this performance for the deliciously ripe oboe playing of Jasu Moisio.

Read the full review here

Bach Harpsichord Concertos 4 – Edinburgh International Festival – The Scotsman

Susan Nickalls, The Scotsman
★★★★

The tonal blend of the two instruments was perfect with Schornsheim’s sharper articulation adding brightness in the quicker movements…Schornsheim gave a lively account of the mercurial prelude from the English Suite No 4 in F major followed by the Keyboard Concerto in F minor. This featured a bed of soft pizzicato strings in the slow movement and there was a witty series of echoes in the presto, similar to the echo aria in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.

Read the full review here

Bach’s Multiple Concertos – Edinburgh International Festival – The Arts Desk

David Nice, The Arts Desk
★★★★

You had to wait for the four to come to the fore – or for one of them, in the case of the Fifth Brandenburg Concerto, where Egarr eventually went wild in his first-movement cadenza. He also charmingly introduced the arrangement of the Italian Concerto as essentially for two players, with the other two “jamming” in a Graingeresque “dishing up”. It was a delight

Read the full review here

Bach Harpsichord Concertos – Edinburgh International Festival – The Times

Simon Thompson, The Times
★★★

This first concert in the series started as they mean to go on: the Dunedin musicians play on instruments from Bach’s time, and the pair of harpsichords, both from 1755, come from St Cecilia’s remarkable collection of historical instruments. What’s not to like?

Read the full review here