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.
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.
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.
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’.
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’.
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.
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.