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The Battle of Killiecrankie
James OSWALD (1711-1769)
A Highland Battle [9.46]
Alexander MUNRO (fl.1732)
Sonata on ‘Bonny Jean of Aberdeen’ [5.06]
Hamish MOORE
The Torment
Scots wha hae wi’Wallace bled’ [2.31]; Bonny Barbry O [3.16]; Leezie Lindsay [3.19]; How sweet is the scene [1.44]; O luve will venture in [2.28]; My Nanny –O [2.10]; Giga on ‘Bonny Jean of Aberdeen’ [1.01]; I love My Love is Secret [2.38]; Ae fond Kiss [2.17]; The Massacre of Glencoe [5.45]; The Chevalier’s Lament [3.16]; Niel Gow’s Lament for the Death of his second wife/The Lowlands of Holland [7.01]; Welcome Home my Dearie [0.51]; The Braes o’ Killiecrankie [2.13]
Meredith Hall (soprano); Matthew White (counter-tenor)
La Nef/Sylvain Bergeron
rec. 1- 4 March 2007. Saint-Augustin de Mirabel, Quebec, Canada.


Experience Classicsonline

This is a disc of 18th Century Scottish Music and traditional tunes popular at the time of Robbie Burns (1759-1796). The title applies to what Patrick Mathieu describes as “little more than a skirmish” in which, in 1689, the Jacobites defeated the King’s forces. However too many of their own side died including a hero named ‘Bonny Dundee’. In the eventual aftermath, their cause was lost when Scotland was “annexed” in the Act of Union of 1707. Mathieu’s booklet notes on this subject are interesting but all too brief. 

Robbie Burns and other Scottish poets like James Ferguson wrote poems about those terrible and violent times. Consequently it must be remembered that Burns, whose poems are one of the staples of this disc, became the most popular Scots poet of his day and his work lives on in every Scottish breast. Walter Scott’s poetical work is also represented and all this by the Canadian group, La Nef which was founded as long ago as 1991. I’m ashamed to say, that up until now, I had never heard of them. They obviously love the music; indeed this is their fourth disc for ATMA using similar material and ideas. 

The disc is divided into four sections: 1. Love Songs, 2. War, 3. Laments, 4. Return from War. There is also a brief unrelated song ‘Scots wa hae wi’ Wallace bled’ which acts as a prelude to the CD. The first section consists of eleven pieces. It did at first seem odd to me that the two singers on the disc are a soprano and counter-tenor who cover a very similar vocal range. I have never especially associated Scottish traditional songs with the counter-tenor voice, but Matthew White is a fine singer with an expressive range. The combination is especially delightful in the various duets like ‘Bonny Barbry O’. This sums up the disc in a way with typically folksy words like “Come down the stairs, Bonny, Barbry O (x3) /And bi a fond farewell to your mother”. The girl is then led off to marry a soldier. “Soldiers never fear, Bonny Barbry O”. On an earlier disc the group ‘La Nef’ used Burns’ famous poem ‘My love is like a Red, Red Rose’ as the basis of an anthology (ACD 22336). On this new recording Burns’ ‘Ae fond kiss’ and ‘O luve will venture in’ appear in the first section. The pure tones of Meredith Hall are just so perfect for this music. Like fresh spring water her tone flows deliciously and her phrasing is natural and even.

The second section ‘War’ is taken over mostly by what one might call the Scottish equivalent of Biber’s ‘Battalia’, James Oswald’s colourful ‘A Highland Battle’. This divides into eight unbroken pieces (untracked) with titles like ‘The Battle begins’ and ‘The Chief is killed’. It is played here by flute, pipes, gamba, guitar and drums. This is followed by Burns’ remembrance of another tragic event in Scottish history: an anonymous setting of his ‘Massacre of Glencoe’. 

The third section includes an especially composed but all too brief Lament entitled ‘The Torment’ by Hamish Moore. I wonder if this is the same Hamish Moore who makes bagpipes in the beautiful cathedral city of Dunkeld? All of the performers are mentioned in biography but not Moore. There is also a piece attributed to one Niel Gow (1727-1807), also a Dunkeld man – A Lament for his second wife, after whose death, in 1805, he stopped playing the fiddle. This little piece is tracked with and is attached to a song ‘The Lowlands of Holland’, which speaks of being “twinn’d my love and me”. It’s the usual story of a lover gone and possibly lost to sea. Gow incidentally was a famous fiddler of his day. The final section ‘Return from War’ has two short pieces ending with a setting of Burns’ ‘The Brae of Killiecrankie’. 

All of the music has had be arranged to a greater or lesser extent and this has been tastefully and if I may say ‘authentically’ done by Sylvain Bergeron. The instrumental work is vivacious, clean and full of joy. The singing is passionate even if the words are not always clear. Keep the texts to hand throughout especially as many of the songs are in Lowland Scots. 

All in all, a very enjoyable disc, if for a specialist market. All texts are given and if you don’t understand the Scots then read the French it translates better! The disc is well worth investigating and as I am off to Scotland just now I shall take it with me. 

Gary Higginson 


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