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Reels drones CHRCD154
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Reels, Drones & Jigs
rec. 21-23 January 2019, Music Room, Champs Hill, UK

This disc is a treat: something to cheer you up in the depths of winter (I listened to it at the midwinter solstice) or to set your foot tapping in the summer.

I hadn’t come across Perpetuo before, but they describe themselves as a “versatile collective of musicians who perform a wide variety of traditional and contemporary chamber music in new settings.” So their ambition is to broaden the audience for chamber music, and they do that admirably in this collection of new and fairly new music based around Celtic dances. The clue is in the album’s name, after all.

The first five tracks were performed by Perpetuo at the 2018 St Magnus Festival in Orkney, and they’re all loosely inspired by the music or the myth of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. They’re scored for string trio, and they sound fantastic. Ailie Robertson’s Black Pearl has a gently sense of moving forwards, as does Aidan O’Rourke’s Canongate, which comes to life like a sunrise over the famous Edinburgh street after which it is named. The sound grows organically and completely persuasively, and O’Rourke’s background in traditional music is really clear, adding a wonderful sense of authenticity to the sound. Alasdair Nicholson, who is also the director of the St Magnus Festival, gives us a striking moto perpetuo in The Insomniac’s Jig, while Fennesy’s An Open Field is an exploration of string textures that shimmers beautifully. Donald Grant’s TÓladh is, perhaps, the loveliest thing on the disc; a gorgeous lullaby, full of soul and lyricism.

Elsewhere, Adrian Sutton’s Spring Masque is utterly joyous; a dazzlingly infectious jig scored for only violin and viola, but it feels like a lot more. That’s also true of Max’s Midhouse Air, and David Matthews’ elegiac Song for Max unfolds with disarming and charming simplicity. Melinda Maxwell’s reinterpretation of a Pibroch (put simply, the classical music of the bagpipes) is both haunting and structurally compelling, the solos oboe standing in well against the drone, and Cecilia McDowall uses gurgling winds to evoke the spirit of the British weather and its impact on the farming communities.

Judith Weir’s Airs from Another Planet is interesting, if less compelling, sounding like a more abstract exercise, while James MacMillan seems to do an impression of Stravinsky in his writing for a wind quintet. But if I found these less appealing than the others then that doesn’t detract from what is an interesting and enormously enjoyable disc, performed with commitment by everyone involved.

It’s very nicely recorded, too, in the music room of Champs Hill. It’s close, so close that at times you can hear the scrape of resin on string or the click of the oboe’s keys, but it never feels claustrophobic and there is always enough air around the sound to make it enjoyable. A disc to bring a smile to your face.

Simon Thompson

Ailie ROBERTSON The Black Pearl [5:22]
Aidan O’ROURKE Canongate [5:07]
Alasdair NICOLSON The Insomniac’s Jig (or Ms. Humphrey’s Lilt) [2:37]
David FENNESSY An Open Field [5:20]
Donald GRANT TÓladh [5:23]
Judith WEIR Airs from Another Planet [11:54]
Adrian SUTTON Spring Masque [4:56]
James MACMILLAN Untold [7:01]
Peter MAXWELL DAVIES Midhouse Air [2:09]
David MATTHEWS A Song for Max [3:53]
Melinda MAXWELL Pibroch [11:28]
Cecilia McDOWALL Subject to the Weather [5:13]

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