Songlines Magazine 2004
Alasdair Fraser & Natalie Haas
Fire And Grace
Culburnie Records CUL 121
Full Price (65 minutes)
This is a classy recording, quite literally oozing ‘Fire And Grace’. Gifted young Californian cellist Natalie Haas joins Alasdair Fraser (Skyedance), acknowledged Scottish fiddle ambassador. Together, they bring a strong sense of rhythm, emotion and joie de vivre to their interpretations of tunes old and new - Scottish waltzes, jigs, and reels - even a Scandinavian polska.
This recording is distinguished because it reunites the fiddle with its centuries-old ceilidh partner, the cello, often confined to the orchestral setting. Indeed, Fraser’s joy at performing with cellist Haas at a recent Celtic Connections performance I attended was palpable. In Captain Simon Fraser’s collection of 1816, the lyric to one song claims that the fiddle and violoncello had no rival “at wedding, dance or ball”. David Allen (1744 – 96) depicted a fiddler and cellist at work in his painting ‘The Highland Dance’. And here we seemingly have their 21st century reincarnation!
Fraser’s expressive playing twists and turns throughout, shimmering with a remarkable lyricism. He embraces many of Scotland’s fiddle styles – from the hugely enjoyable ‘Stirling Castle Set’, ‘St Kilda Wedding/Brose And Butter’ to the exquisite ‘The Duchess’; Haas’ performance lends depth, structure and rhythm, besides conveying great emotion, particularly on tunes such as ‘Josefin’s Waltz’ and ‘Da Stockit Light’. On ‘Calliope Meets Frank’, her rhythm making is astonishing, and the album abounds with similar examples. It’s Haas’ performance that hooks me as I listen – her playing is often angular, dark, and underpins the whole with superlative bass rhythm.