The Lammermuir Festival has come of age. This year is its 10th anniversary, and what began as a small festival to fill that quiet period in September between the end of the Edinburgh International Festival and the regular autumn orchestral and operatic schedules has become an important part of the Scottish musical scene. Indeed, in 2017 it won the Royal Philharmonic Society Award as the best classical music festival in the UK.
Under the direction of James Watters and Hugh Macdonald we have come to expect high quality international standard concerts presented in many interesting venues in the lovely county of East Lothian. This year the Festival programme lives up to expectations with concerts by the BBC Scottish Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Dunedin Consort and Scottish Opera.
The Festival begins on the inauspicious date of Friday 13 September, but it turns out perfectly. The venue is the lovely old church in Whitekirk, St Mary’s Parish Church, which was originally built in 1439 but rebuilt after it was burnt down in 1914 (reputedly by suffragettes!). The church looks across the fields of East Lothian towards the Bass Rock and the Firth of Forth and on this lovely sunny afternoon, it is, as festival director James Watters said, ‘a perfect day for a start to the Festival.’
The music is provided by Quatour Mosaiques, a very fine international quartet based in Austria, making a return visit to the Lammermuir Festival. They play period instruments using gut strings and in the intimate setting of the church they produce a warm, resonant sound which delights the packed audience.
The quartet is composed of three Austrians: Erich Höbarth (violin), Andrea Bischof (violin) and Anita Mitterer (viola), and a French cellist, Christophe Coin. They have been together for 30 years and it shows in the perfect harmony of their performance. Over the three concerts the quartet give (of which two are covered here), they play the three mighty Beethoven Razumovsky Quartets, commissioned by the Russian ambassador to the Viennese court, which are recognised as amongst Beethoven’s greatest works.
In the first concert at Whitekirk, Razumovsky 1 is preceded by two Haydn Quartets – E-Flat Major Op. 64 No. 6 and B-Flat
Major Op. 76 No. 4 ‘ Sunrise’, which provides a light, melodic introduction to the rather darker and dramatic Beethoven after the interval; together, they make for a perfect opening concert for the Festival.
The second concert is in the very unusual settings of the Chalmers Church in Port Seton, an Arts and Crafts style church built in 1904 which uses a lot of wood in its interior, again providing an excellent acoustic for the quartet. Here the Beethoven is proceeded by two Mozart works, an Adagio and Fugue in C Minor and the String Quartet in D Major,ˋThe Russian‘; these provide a lovely light and tuneful first half before the even darker music of Beethoven’s Razumovsky 2 in the second half. The packed audience in Port Seton give the quartet a warm reception at the end of the concert and the Lammermuir Festival get a strong opening series of concerts.