In the canon of the works of Robert Burns it is not difficult
to find something new and original. For only a fragment of his
verses and songs merit an airing each 25th February:
immortal memories, lasses, Tam’s hair’s breadth escape from perdition,
and the worthy pudden – all staple fare.
here is something joyously different! From Orkney - “the seas
between us” - and heralded by a fresh solo soprano – comes this
exciting collection of unaccompanied choral settings of Burns.
It’s far from the usual ‘hamely fare’ – elevating the sing-song
element from the public house to the concert hall. In doing
so it achieves a minor miracle of presenting ‘weel-kent’ melodies
and lyrics in a rich variety of guises as a collected programme
never done before.
a harmonic subtlety about even the most straightforward arrangements,
such as those by John Kitchen, Cedric Thorpe Davie and George
McPhee. There are also several original compositions – few of
which would be heard in the usual Burns’ Supper. These include
the Five Epigrams (Epitaphs) of Nicholas Maw with many colourful
expressions of Burns’ hatred of cant – the less familiar ‘Poortish
Cauld’, in Tippett’s powerful setting, Peter Stephenson’s stark
‘Ye Jacobites by name’ and Percy Grainger’s eccentric whistle
(Ye Banks and Braes).
There are also two striking arrangements
by James MacMillan. First we hear the richly atmospheric ‘So
Deep’ (a setting of ‘O my love’s like a red, red rose’). This
opens with a solo line like the precentor’s call to which the
choir, in a kind of organum, respond to the summons. The second
‘The Gallant Weaver’ gives the title to the collection and is
a glorious harmonic tapestry through which is threaded the typical
psalm-like tune in canonic phrases. It’s an effect both powerful
many aspects of Burns’ life and character are illustrated in
these settings. The subtlety of his lyrics and the tunes to
which so often he fitted them capture equally a perceptive harmony
small chamber choir was founded by its director Neil Price in
1988 and has already established its reputation, not only locally
but in wider Europe. It is essentially an amateur body of enthusiastic
singers, existing, as Neil Price explains ’to provide recreation
for the members’. But the Director’s enthusiasm - not to mention
his handling of the forces in some very difficult music - is
amply illustrated in this important venture into the black and
white world of Burns with some ravishing colour.
should also be mentioned that the recording is dedicated to
the memory of one of their number, Susie Gilbertson, who died
in March 2007.
disc, decorated with some appropriate art-work by Matilda Tumim,
is highly to be prized. Copies can be obtained from Neil Price
at The Manse, North Bigging, Dounby, Orkney KW17 2HZ at £9.99