various artists, |
Harps, Pipes & Fiddles
The traditional instruments of Scotland are the harp, the Highland bagpipe and the fiddle. Temple Records has produced a wide variety of high-quality recordings featuring these instruments and some of the top players. This new album is a compilation of tracks primarily taken from a number of these albums. The tracks on this album are grouped by instrument, with six harp tracks, seven bagpipe tracks and seven fiddle tracks.
This is a good introduction to the traditional music of Scotland -- although not all here is strictly traditional, and not all is Scottish. There are several Breton and Irish tunes, plus more from continental Europe and the U.S. In addition, there are both Northumbrian pipes and border pipes.
A good variety of harpers and harp music is recorded on this album, which features Alison Kinnaird, Maire ni Chathasaigh, Ann Heymann and William Taylor. These four are excellent choices; their expertise, knowledge and artistry are well-known. Kinnaird and ni Chathasaigh play the gut-strung harp and the Heymann and Taylor play the wire-strung variety. The wire-strung has a somewhat piercing, harpsichord-like sound, while the gut-strung is richer and mellower.
Kinnaird plays "Leslie's March" solo and "Lament for Red-haired Iain" with the Battlefield Band. The lament is based on a piobaireachd, which is (crudely speaking) a piece of music composed of a theme and a set of variations. In some ways, the arrangement itself mirrors a piobaireachd. It starts with Kinnaird playing alone and the Battlefield Band joining in as the tune progresses. A pair of jigs, "Charles O'Conor" and "Father Hanly," are played by ni Chathasaigh. These tunes were written by Turlough O'Carolan, an 18th-century Irish harper, and are beautifully arranged by ni Chathasaigh. Her playing is outstanding. These dance tunes start the feet tapping and it's hard to sit still when she's playing.
Heymann plays two sets, a reel/jig set and an air. The dance tunes are the "Temple Hill Reel" and the "Temple Hill Jig," and they're played with an excitement and energy that many harpers lack. The air is "Miss Hamilton," the only known composition of Cornelius Lyons, an Irish harper who was a contemporary of O'Carolan. Taylor performs "I Long for Thy Virginitie" as a solo, then is joined by Robert MacKillop, the other half of The Rowallan Consort, on lute for a Spanish dance tune called "The Canaries."
There are excellent piping tracks on this recording, in a nice variety of tunes. Most feature the Highland pipe, but there are also tracks that use the Northumbrian and border variety. There are examples of solo piping, small piping groups, pipe bands and rock groups with pipes.
By far, my favorite tracks on this recording are those by John D. Burgess and Dr. Angus MacDonald. Burgess was one of the best pipers of the previous generation of competitive pipers, and MacDonald is one of the best of the current generation. Their musicianship and artistry are impeccable. Burgess plays The "Swallow-tailed Coat/Turf Lodge," a reel/jig set, while MacDonald plays "Barabel Phadruig/Donald, Willie and His Dog/The Price of a Pig," a great set of jigs. In particular, "Donald, Willie and His Dog" is a masterpiece of a jig -- both in its composition and in MacDonald's performance of it.
Dougie Pincock and Iain MacDonald play a set of European dance tunes, including several Breton tunes. Their playing is tight, whether they are playing in unison or in harmony. They give a strong dance feeling to the tunes.
There are several tracks with pipes used in conjunction with other instruments. Two tracks feature the Battlefield Band; the first with Ged Foley playing the Northumbrian pipes and the second with Duncan MacGillivray playing the Highland pipes. The Shotts & Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band, combining a bagpipe section with drums, plays a set of 9/8 marches. Gordon Mooney plays a set of tunes on border pipes, accompanied by bassoon and other instruments.
A wide range of fiddle styles are presented in ensembles, joining fiddle with harp, guitar, piano and other fiddles.
The superb fiddler Aly Bain starts off the section with William Marshall's "Chapel Keithack," accompanied by Alison Kinnaird on harp. This beautiful air is followed by Brian McNeill playing a set of American tunes. One of the tunes is an Appalachian tune, which is particularly appropriate since Appalachian music has its basis in Scottish music. McNeill is on another track with the Battlefield Band. The tunes on this track are "The Laird o' Brodie/Danzig Willie/The Merchant's Jig." These last two tunes were written by members of the Battlefield Band in honor of William Forbes, a merchant who owned Craigievar Castle.
Marie Fielding plays a set of tunes with Jim Johnstone and His Band. The set was put together as a tribute to her musician friends in Canada. The final track of the recording is by the Fiddlers Five, comprising Marie Fielding, Brian MacNeill, John McCusker, Chuck Fleming and John Martin. They play "William Ritchie, Esq./Hugh McKenna's Reel," a pair of reels from the border country between Scotland and England.
Unfortunately, this recording isn't without problems. The most apparent problem is that grouping the selections by instrument lends a certain amount of tedium to the recording. It may make some logical sense to divide it this way, but it detracts from the overall effect of the album.
Also, the recording doesn't quite live up to its stated goals. The liner notes say, "Through this recording we lay before you the past, present, and indeed the future of these instruments and their tradition." Unfortunately, this goal is only partially realized. The harp music included here is all high quality music, but it is only represents the music from the past. There are exciting things happening in the contemporary harp scene in Scotland. It is unfortunate that this wasn't represented here. The piping section was somewhat better, since it presented some traditional piping and some contemporary piping, such as the tracks featuring the Battlefield Band. For some reason, though, there are no instances of piobaireachd here (excluding the harp piobaireachd performed by Kinnaird, of course). Piobaireachd is considered the classical music of the Highland bagpipe and there is a significant body of piobaireachd music and considerable scholarship devoted to it. Its absence here is peculiar.
All in all, this album is an excellent introduction to the music of Scotland, giving an overview of traditional music as played on the instruments commonly associated with that land. The musicians are superb and the playing is excellent. Despite its shortcomings, this CD is worth a listen -- on random play.