Notes and Editorial Reviews
Delphian is a Scottish recording company based in Edinburgh who enjoys bringing to our notice little-known Scottish music of all kinds. Recorded to a high standard with fine Scottish performers, the whole enterprise is laudable and fascinating, and this disc marks a point of considerable interest.
This is not a period of British music which has been generally highly regarded by earlier commentators and critics. And Scotland is often seen as a back-water, conservative and lacking any genius or indeed any particular composer of talent. Well if you do hold this opinion then this generously filled CD should begin to alter your blinkered view.
What you need with a disc like this is a good booklet essay, describing the background, the music and the composers. This we are offered. In fact the notes by David McGuiness are excellent. The texts of the nine recorded songs are given. In addition we are offered the source and publication date of each piece and biographies of the performers. However the exact dates of the composers are not specified, not even those like Geminiani who are well known.
So to the music and to what you can expect to hear.
Some items here are arrangements of traditional Scottish melodies. That obviously applies to the pieces from ‘The Caledonian Muse’ published by the Thompson family in 1785 and aimed at a more low-brow quick-selling market. Other dances and songs, like ‘The Broom of Cowdenknows’, although professionally arranged by contemporaries, fall into a similar category. Then we have some dances that are grouped into suites like those of Robert Mackintosh.
It may seem odd to find two Italians represented here. Urbani and Geminiani (born in Lucca c.1680-1762) both lived for many years in England. Urbani was based in Edinburgh for some time.
There are some more ‘serious’ instrumental works like the brilliant ‘Gavott’ by Mackintosh. This is reminiscent of Handel with its varied repeats. Finally we have the songs and four text settings of ‘Robbie’ Burns. There is also a song by James Oswald which comes from a kind of song-cycle published in 1742 called ‘Colin’s Kisses’. This is the last of a set of twelve songs. The first ones have been recorded by Concerto Caledonia (Linn CKD 101). This is quite a professional piece perhaps inspired by Thomas Arne. The music is rather elegant and ‘drawing room’, with not much that is Scottish in its melodic inspiration. The verses are broken up by a violin phrase and a soprano used for the answering second verse. Both singers join in, mostly in simple unison, for verse three.
I especially enjoyed the melody used for the strophic ‘Auld Robin Gray’ by Robert Bremner. This uses a melancholy tune - a sad song about a girl who reluctantly marries the man she never really loved. With its ‘scotch-snap’ rhythm and its modal melody it has an air of a folk tune but manages to be truly Scottish yet not traditional.
I have implied that the performances are first class and I repeat it. Although the soprano Mhairi Lawson has too much vibrato for my taste, nevertheless she sings with lovely phrasing and with grace. Everything on the disc is nicely presented. I would be happy to recommend this CD to anyone with an interest in slightly off-beat music.
-- Gary Higginson , MusicWeb International