Two Fiddles, Two Pianos Encore
at the Judique Community Centre, Judique, Cape Breton
(11 October 2010)

Imagine a simple stage. A keyboard on the right and on the left, each angled in toward two empty chairs for the fiddlers. And then imagine a blonde firecracker zipping around the stage and a blue-shirted wizard casting spells with a bow. Yep! You guessed it. Natalie and Donnell were in Judique for a show!

Natalie MacMaster said they wanted to do something that was different from a Leahy show and different from her touring show and, as expected, even though the numbers on stage were pared down, the evening started off in high energy with some tuneful tricks, juicy and fast. The first half of the show featured Natalie and husband Donnell Leahy with Erin Leahy and Mac Morin on keyboards. It was a relaxed stage when it came to conversation and some good-natured ribbing between husband and wife, but the music was pretty intense.

Early on, Natalie and Donnell played "The Wedding Day Jig," which they co-wrote as a gift for guests at their wedding. Played tonight, their voices were clearly heard in their fiddling. It was also a night of some beautiful waltzes.

Natalie told us she could play jigs forever and explained they don't take the effort that reels and strathspeys do. She sat down with her fiddle saying, "This isn't a square set, but I'm gonna get pretty darn close," and she pulled out a long line of jigs. After that she retuned and stood to play a slow air, one to close your eyes to, and then slammed into a rousing march; I swear she went from 30 to 150 in .5 seconds. This was a strong, vibrant set with fantastic repartee going on with Mac on the keyboard. There was a lot of switching while Erin danced, Natalie danced, Erin, Natalie and Mac danced, and I'm pretty sure there was a moon-walk in there somewhere, too.

After Natalie's set, Donnell drove into the "Banks Medley," which he said starts off with some slow pieces and then some tunes learned off an accordion player from France. His sleight of hand -- sleight of bow hand, that is -- is fascinating to watch, and at times it sounds like there's a couple of fiddlers with him. Donnell played a romantic serenade-like piece and then he revved up the motor. Beside him, Erin on the piano was an absolute wonder to watch. Brother and sister have a style sharply honed and it was fun to watch them sculpt the music.

Though they've played together for 10 years, tonight was the first time I heard Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas together. Natalie MacMaster introduced Haas's playing on the cello as spunky. Alasdair's style was smooth long-bowing and Natalie did indeed add the spunk. Alasdair said the fiddle and cello have been seen together in old sketches and paintings from earlier centuries in Scotland. This is a pretty interesting combination that they have put together. Alasdair Fraser had a great line about the difference between a fiddle and a violin: "It's the ability to stay up late." During the Celtic Colours International Festival especially.

I have to mention the blast of tunes on the keyboard that Erin and Mac did. Wow, just, wow.

Over the course of the evening, there were many special moments, the show was friendly and fun, and the musicians provided a dazzling bunch of sets.

review by
Virginia MacIsaac

6 November 2010

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