Today is Brexit day—the day Article 50 is triggered by the British Government, beginning the UK’s departure from the European Union— and tonight’s concert by the Dunedin Consort in collaboration with Phantasm, thus seems very apposite. It features work by the great English composer, Orlando Gibbons, written to celebrate the visit of James I of England (VI of Scotland) to Scotland in 1617. This was James’ first and only visit to Scotland as King, and was meant to cement the Union of Crowns, which preceded the Act of Union in 1707. So on the day that the United Kingdom begins its withdrawal from the EU, and the Scottish Parliament (just 100 yards away) passes a bill for a second referendum on independence, this concert celebrates the unity of the Kingdom.
And what a concert it is, too! To begin, the six players of the Phantasm viol consort create an appropriate mood in the beautiful setting of Canongate Kirk, by playing several Fantasies by Gibbons on their period instruments. They also expertly accompany six singers from the Dunedin Consort, two sopranos two tenors and two basses, in works by Gibbons that celebrate James’ visit to (and indeed his birth in) Edinburgh.
The singing, often led by Nicholas Mulroy, is superb throughout, and demonstrates Gibbons’ mastery of melody and counterpoint. The first part of the concert celebrates James’ return to Scotland, and the second half takes a more religious, High Anglican format.
The concert concludes with a wonderful unaccompanied Hosanna, followed by a fine tenor solo based on a very philosophical poem by Walter Raleigh, What is our life?, ending with a final tribute to King James: Great King of Gods.
Overall, this is a perfect gem of a concert, much appreciated by a full Canongate Kirk audience, and which perhaps demonstrates that even if politics can divide us, music can connect us!