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By Yon Bonnie banks - Traditional Early music from Scotland
Turlough O’CAROLAN (1670-1738) James Betagh Jig [4.58] Fhir a bhata (O boatman) [5.10]
Neil GOW (1727-1807) Neil Gow’s Lament for his second wife [5.24]
ANON Stoidhle Neill Ghobba/ Nighean bhudhe (Golden locks) [2.19]; Chi mi na mor-bheanna (I will see the Great Mountain) [3.03]; I have a wife/Biodag air mac Alasdair [2.39]; Siuthadaibh bhalacha (Go on lads) [2.10]; Seathan mac Righ Eireann (John, son of the King of Ireland) [2.11];
Puirt a beul(Mouth Music)/Siud mar chaidh an cal a dholaidh (That’s how the cabbage was spoiled)/Fear an Duin Mhoir (The Lord of Dunmore)/Nam biodh agam (If I had a shabby old man [2.26];
Hamish the Carpenter/There Cam a young man/Hills of Glenorchy/Jenny Nettles [4.10]
The Red Rose and the Briar [6.02]; Fine Flowers in the valley [7.03]; The Old Grey Cat [2.44]; A mhic lain ‘ic Sheumais (Son of John, son of James) [3.21]; Saw ye nae my Peggy [5.18]; Alastair m’annsachd (Sandy is my only love) [2.22]; Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie [1.51] Bonnie isle 0’Whalsey [1.37]; Loch Lomond [3.32]
Quadriga Consort
Elisabeth Kaplin (voice); Angelika Huemar (recorder and viola da gamba); Karin Silldorf (recorder); Dominika Teufel (viol da gamba); Peter Trefflinger (Baroque cello); Laurenz Schiffermuller (percussion); Nikolaus Newerkla (harpsichord/arranger/director).
rec. July 2006, Stift St.Georgen am Langsee

This disc is a follow-up to the one that Quadriga brought out last year (2006) on the same label (‘As I walked forth’ - ORF Alte Musik CD 389). The question that first crossed my mind, having given their previous disc a strong thumbs-up, was: is this going to be just a repeat performance, or have they something new to say in this specialized and potentially rather plain repertoire?

The disc is differs from the previous one in at least two ways.

First as you can see above, there are songs here in the Scottish Gaelic language; secondly there are more purely instrumental items. How should we listen to these performances and what can we expect?

The back of the disc case states that the performances “are not primarily the stylistically informed performance practice of traditional folk music. What awaits us – if we are willing to transcend this kind of categorization - is a vast, panoramic view of Scotland’s diverse and fascinating musical tradition”. So, expect the unexpected.

I love the energy that the ensemble put into their recordings. This is especially noticeable in the opening tracks like ‘I have a wife’. It’s interesting to hear a wide range of styles when they contrast that with Neil Gow’s Lament a few tracks later and the beautiful melody that constitutes ‘The Red Rose and the Briar’. Later still we hear the solemn, and possibly the little over-long, ‘Saw ye nae my Peggy’ played purely instrumentally sounding like a 17th Century Viol consort piece, which is most apt as it is from a song collected by McGibbon in his Scots Tunes of 1762. Some other collections and manuscripts represented are: The Blake manuscript dated  1682 for the tune ‘Rattlin’ Roarin Willie’, English and Scottish Popular ballads 1882-1898 including the tune ‘The Red Rose and the Briar’ and into modern times ‘Hamish the Carpenter’ from ‘Fiddle songs of Cape Breton’ 1986. Quite an eclectic choice. It would be interesting to know if these editions are generally available.

I described Elisabeth Kaplan in my last review as having a voice which was “flexible, colourful and which has a tinge of the untrained about it”. A folksy voice in fact - just right. Its incredible how she nimbly gets her mouth around the Gaelic texts so assuredly and clearly. Most remarkable of all are the four tiny songs beginning with ‘Puirt a beul’ described as ‘mouth music’, impossible to describe but I’m sure you can understand what is meant. If you think patter songs are tricky then you should hear these.

As before, the instrumental work is superb. Don’t worry if you’re not keen on recorders: these are played so dexterously that they seem a long way from the simple melodies often associated with them. Hearing two of them carolling freely in a jig like ‘Rattlin’ Roarin’ Willie’ is especially thrilling. Quadriga do not use bagpipes - some of you will be relieved at that - but a drone is sometimes used appropriately in imitation as in ‘Siuthadaibh bhalacha’t’ one of the so-called pieces of ‘mouth music’ and in the sorrowful lament for ‘John, son of the King of Ireland’.

All of the music has had to undergo some sort of arrangement and that has again fallen to Nikolaus Newerkla who deserves considerable credit but who gets a rather low-profile billing in the booklet. He has only himself to blame however as he wrote the accompanying essay. Sometimes these arrangements are modest; indeed ‘James Betagh’s Jig’ by Turlough O’Carolan (who appeared on their last disc) sounds untouched. It is like a courtly early baroque dance at first with a gentle drum accompaniment and harpsichord with violin and recorder, and then speeds up into a lively compound time. Sometimes the arrangements are a little more ‘in yer face’, like the syncopated rock rhythm which is set up for the foot-tapping ‘Bonnie isle o’Whalsey’, a Shetland reel. This adds further to the disc’s variety. The last track ‘Loch Lomond’ is set to harp-like, pizzicato accompaniment of great and unexpected charm.

The texts are given both in their original and in German and English translations in two colours - which actually helps the eyes. There are some quite attractive colour photos of the group boating, presumably on some Scottish Loch!

The recording is very vivid and detailed. There is no sense of a building around it, or acoustic but nevertheless it has space and a certain intangible atmosphere.

Scotland’s diverse musical traditional is again then thrown into focus. New doors are opened yet all seems familiar and friendly. This is a disc that anyone of any age can enjoy.

Gary Higginson



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