Sing Out!
Summer 2005 Vol. 49 #2

ALASDAIR FRASER, MURIEL JOHNSTONE, NATALIE HAAS

Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, Vol. 2

Culburnie CUL 120

Just in time for the 246th anniversary of the bard’s birth, comes a striking new collection that reassembles the dance and drawing room melodies Robert Burns used for his songs in the way that the poet intended.  Alasdair Fraser, both a pre-eminent fiddler and an avid historian of Scottish music, based his selection of music for this CD on James C. Dick’s 1903 publication The Songs of Robert Burns.  Burns, like many lyricists of the 18th Century, didn’t publish his words and music together, but chose to indicate which public domain melody best suited a particular set of lyrics.  This led to disagreements, then and now, since tune variants could differ from location to location and because some scholars and performers attempted to “improve” upon Burns’ choices.  The renowned collaboration between Jean Redpath and Serge Hovey resulted in a major collection of Burns’s songs, but Fraser’s aim here is to honor the tunes by themselves, and to present them as they might have been heard in the poet’s day.

To that end, he’s enlisted pianist Muriel Johnstone – a veteran of the Scottish dance scene, and cellist Natalie Haas to re-create Dick’s arrangements.  Many of these will sound familiar: “Ca’ the Yowes,” and “The Lea Rig” have become part of the folk song canon.  Some will be familiar only to dancers, like “Merrily Danced the Quaker’s Wife,” “Killiecrankie,” and “Corn Rigs.”  If the choice of cello seems unusual, keep in mind that, in Burns’ day, the music was scored for violin or flute with a written bass line specifically intended for harpsichord continuo or cello.  Haas deserves special mention here for her deft and stately reading of these accompaniments.  Taken as an accompaniment to the study of Burns’ life and legacy, or solely on its merits as a gorgeously-played collection of tunes, Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle, Vol. Two is a great choice.  -- MD