Louise Macdonald is a fine Scottish contralto, and with Ingrid Sawers, a very good piano accompanist, they stage one of the best musical events on the Fringe. It takes the theme of Mary Queen of Scots, from her life in France, to her return to Scotland, and finally her execution by Queen Elizabeth I in England. The composers and the songs are expertly introduced by Sawers, who sets the historical context. The words are projected on the wall behind the performers.
The concert begins with five songs by Schumann, from his Maria Stuart Lieder written in the 19th century, and as Sawers explains, at the height of great interest in Scottish history and culture. The songs are comparable to the best of Schumann’s Lieder, and Macdonald sings them beautifully in her genuine contralto voice, sensitively accompanied by Sawers.
They continue with three songs composed by Edward McGuire, based on poems written by Mary during her stay in France, and when her young husband the Dauphin died. McGuire is well known as a great flute player with the folk group the Whistlebinkies, but is also a fine classical composer. These songs beautifully fit Mary’s poems and are very melodic.
Next, comes a dramatic presentation of that fateful night in Holyrood Palace when Mary’s friend and musician, Rizzio, was brutally murdered by her second husband, Darnley. Composer Judith Bingham uses Mary’s own words and turns them into a vivid account of those awful events.
Finally, the concert ends with composer Dee Isaacs’ Triptych for Mary, which includes a John Donne poem. It concludes achingly with Mary’s words, which she embroidered on a cloth around her bed while in her English prison, “in my end is my beginning”, movingly sung by Macdonald and exquisitely played by Sawers.
This is a gem of a concert, set in the elegant surroundings of St Mark’s Unitarian Church. It brings a new musical focus to an important part of Scottish history, and in Macdonald and Sawers we have two fine musicians that bring it to us.