This disc is a follow-up
to the one that Quadriga brought out last year (2006) on the same
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
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.