St Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington, is the setting for tonight’s concert, given by wind players of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, and the thirteen musicians (twelve wind and one double bass) give us a fine concert. It begins with Beethoven’s Wind Sextet, which he wrote as a young man in 1796. Curiously, this sounds very unlike many later Beethoven works, and is more reminiscent of Haydn or Mozart. However, it was written at a time when Beethoven was heavily influenced by both, and before he had found his distinctive voice. Being performed by only six wind instruments, the work sounds a little thin in the big space of St Mary’s, certainly in comparison to the thirteen-strong ensemble for the Mozart performed later.
The concert continues with a new work by Mark Simpson, who is leading the orchestra from the clarinet. He is the resident composer for the Lammermuir Festival, and this was his third work for them. The Lammermuir Festival is very good at commissioning new works, and making us listen to new music amongst the classical gems in its programme. Whether Simpson’s new work Geysir (named after an Icelandic geyser because the music rises to a crescendo and falls away again) will reach a lasting place in the repertoire, we cannot be sure. It certainly produces some intense playing by the ensemble, including from Mark on clarinet. It does have some melody and some drama, but compared to the Mozart that follows it, it doesn’t quite convince.
Mozart’s Gran Partita is, of course, one of the greatest works for wind instruments, and although labelled as a wind serenade, with its seven movements, its length, its depth, its change of mood and tempo, it really compares to a symphony. In the famous Mozart film Amadeus, Salieri, Mozart’s great rival says, “This was a music I’d never heard. […] It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God”. Whether Salieri ever actually said that or not, we in St Mary’s are certainly hearing the voice of the musical genius that is Mozart. The wind players and the bass player of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra play it wonderfully, and it sounds so much more modern than the Beethoven we heard previously, even though it was written much earlier.
This was a wonderful concert. The Lammermuir Festival has grown into the most important classical music festival outside of the Edinburgh International Festival, and we are very lucky to have it.