Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle,
Alasdair Fraser, fiddle, and Paul Machlis, piano
(Culburnie Records, CUL118D)
Most PVSFC members are probably more than familiar with Alasdair Fraser's lively and inventive fiddling. He has brought recognition to Scottish fiddle music worldwide. His newest CD, with pianist Paul Machlis, adds to his list of excellent recordings.
"Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle" is more traditional than Alasdair's other recent recordings. All the tunes on the CD are either traditional Scottish tunes, or tunes composed by well-known Scottish composers of the past; Marshall, Skinner, Hardie, Grant, Simon Fraser, Mackintosh and others are all represented. The liner notes mention that the performers listened to, and were influenced by, old recordings of traditional Scottish fiddlers.
"Legacy" is a beautiful recording, with all the consideration to tone, phrasing, balance, detail, and ensemble that usually characterizes classical music. Alasdair's classical training is evident, especially when he plays tunes like the virtuosic "Madame Neruda" by Skinner. (If you'd like to hear the same tune played by a more fiddly fiddler, listen to Rodney Miller's version.) This tune, and several others, exists in the grey area between classical and traditional music.
Alasdair and Paul have played together often enough and long enough that they know what sound they want, and what to expect, or as Paul puts it, " to move as one person." It's clear that they agree on interpretations and moods and even tiny details of phrasing and tempo.
The content of "Legacy" is wide and varied, from lovely slow airs like "Mrs. Jamieson's Favourite" to a set of sassy Shetland reels, to the slightly silly "Sir George Clark of enicuik", to the elegant "Lady Charlotte Campbell" strathspey and reel set. Lady Charlotte Campbell, a wonderful strathspey in B flat, is played in the Northeast style, with its moody ebb and flow of tempos. There are so many excellent tunes played with artistry and poetry and humor that I am still enjoying listening to it after many months.
I was curious about the focus of this recording. Alasdair and Paul have equal billing on the cover of the CD acknowledging the importance of the beleaguered back-up instrument in creating the mood and style of a tune. But this is very definitely a FIDDLE recording. The piano is unobtrusive; you have to actually pay attention and listen to be aware how much the piano contributes to supporting and highlighting the melody. Paul Machlis, who took the time to answer my questions about his piano style in detail, says of his reel, jig and strathspey back-ups: "I've developed my own style over the years... partly from listening to non-pianists (citterns, guitars, and accordions)…and partly by just naturally throwing into my playing other musical influences (some jazz, rock, pop, etc.)."
The "volume 1" in the title of the CD leads me to wonder what else is coming in this series. Paul Machlis says that he and Alasdair have similar material for more CD's and hope to record them in time. I'll be looking forward to it.
By Julie Gorka