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Collection: The Land of Mountain and Flood - Scottish Orchestral Music Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by John Wilson  ASV CD WHL 2123 [70:46]

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They say the Devil has all the best tunes. When one thinks of the gloriously lyrical melodies of such favourites as 'Loch Lomond', 'The Road to the Isles' and the 'Eriskay Love Lilt' there is little doubt that the soulful Scot, obviously in league with the devil, has music in his make-up somewhere! What if it is often marked by a kind of poignant yearning that many take for sentimentality. Dvorak and Smetana sang no less soulfully.

This present disc, with such an opening as Hamish MacCunn's 'Land of the Mountain and the Flood' (and including a welcome orchestration of his evocative 'Highland Memories' suite) surely underlines this in no uncertain manner. One wonders then just why it should take an English orchestra, a Geordie, and a cosmopolitan Londoner to compile this present selection, and, with perhaps just a trace apologetically, (not patronising ) think of it as 'light' music. Occasional music it may be, even ceremonial, but the 'big tunes' (played here perhaps a very little on the fast side) are 'singing in the bath' material - and its frivolities (such as Marcus Dods' delightful oboe caprice 'Highland Fancy') are made of music of considerable distinction. A far cry from MacMillan and Beamish perhaps? Of the two more substantial works MacCunn's great ballad needs no introduction. But it is some time since we heard the luscious music of Cedric Thorpe Davie's 'Royal Mile' march, to the strains of which the Royal party, on a coronation visit to the capital in 1952 left St Giles - and whose great central melody (the tune Molly Stewart) was, said Edward Greenfield in the 'Guardian' like 'Walton in a kilt', a tune that brings back for me fond memories of 'The Highland Fair' at the Edinburgh Festival of that year.

Yet perhaps it is not so long ago since we heard Thorpe Davie's music - for those of us who watched the recent television screening of Disney's 'Kidnapped' without noticing the screen credits.....? It is perhaps worth noting that Cedric's film music alone (never mind music for some fifty radio and TV productions) occupied over one thousand pages of full score! Light music - perhaps, but serious work! However I have no real quarrel with the classification if it allows us to hear tuneful music of the calibre of this selection.

Ian Hamilton, one of the 'wild geese' who fled from his native land, is not forgetful of the potential of the dances and melodies of Scotland - these more exciting to me than Malcolm Arnold's. Here is a Glaswegian 'West Side Story' or perhaps 'Slaughter on Sauchiehall Street' with a tipsy Duncam Gray, a raucous whistled wooing of a 'love who's but a lassie yet' - a jolly 'quodlibet' and a lento full of Scotch mist. Buxton Orr takes a much more serious view of the Celtic element with a Fanfare and Processional curiously described as a 'piece of brass writing for strings', and a Suite whose final Port-a -beul (mouth music) also reflects the occasional work song of the Highlands. Perhaps the strangest element is the inclusion of a richly-scored strings version of Sir Hugh Roberton's perennial "All in the April Evening' with its decidedly weird 'tremolando' passage evoking the stark landscape of the crucifixion. What would the Women's Guild have made of it?

The lightest music on the disc comes from Muir Mathieson's impressionistic, even visual, set of Highland cameos - depicting in good film score style, the vistas of the Isles (the call of the mystical Tir-nan-Og) and the crystal stream trickling over Glengarry's rocks (scarcely a Scottish Vltava)

Philip Lane's informative sleeve notes are excellent - but marred by a few 'howlers' - MacCunn's opera is 'Jeanie Deans' (not 'Downs') - Gaddie should be Gadie and surely it isn't necessary to translate '0 gin I were ehere Gadie rins'?? Duncan Grey should of course be Duncan Gray -proofing errors? But I carp! This disc will leave many a listener (on his way to the bath?) singing joyously!

Can I suggest very strongly, for a future disc from this excellent company, Cedric Thorpe Davie's 'The Jolly Beggars', Alexander Campbell Mackenzie's 'Benedictus', the Overture 'Renaissance' by Francis George Scott and the exhilarating 'Scots Dance Toccata' of Ronald Stevenson.


Colin Scott-Sutherland

See also earlier review by Ian Lace


Colin Scott-Sutherland

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