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The Celtic Viol
The Musical Priest / Scotch Mary1 [3:42]
Caledonia’s Wail for Niel Gow (Captain Simon Fraser, 1816 Collection) [3:52]
The Humours of Scariff1 [2:07]
Nathaniel GOW (1727-1807)
Strathspey: Alastair MacAlastair [2:12]
Tom Brigg’s (Jig)2 [1:07]
The Globby O (Jig)2 [1:58]
Lord Moir’s & Jinrikisha2[1:34]
Sackow’s (Jig)1 [1:44]
Hard is my Fate3 [3:01]
William MARSHALL (1748-1833)
Chapel Keithack (1822 Collection) [3:14]
Captain Simon FRASER (1773-1852)
(attrib.) Gudewife, Admit the Wanderer (1816 Collection) [2:47]
James MACPHERSON (ca.1675-1700)
Macpherson’s Lament [2:55]
Tullochgorum3 [1:31]
Pretty Peggy3 [1:14]
‘Twas within a furlong of Edinburgh Town (H. Playford’s Dancing Master,1696) [2:32]
Màiri Bhàn Òg (Mary Young and fair) (Simon Fraser, 1816 Collection) [4:28]
Dowd’s Reel1 [2:46]
Nathaniel GOW
(attrib.) Lady Mary Hay’s Scots Measure (Scottish Dance) [2:23]
O’CAROLAN (1670-1738)
Carolan’s Farewell [4:07]
Gusty’s Frolics (Donegal Tradition) [1:51]
Emigrants Reel2 [1:49]
The Lamentations of Owen Roe O’Neill [2:42]
W.B. LAYBOURN (1835-1886)
Book III: Princess Beatrice [1:40]
Prince Charlie’s Last view of Edinburgh3 [3:25]
Trip it Upstairs (Single Jig)1 [2:21]
Mrs. McPherson of Gibton (1822 Collection) [1:50]
Tuttle’s1 [2:59]
Niel GOW (1727-1807)
Lament for the Death of his Second Wife [5:33]
The Gander in the pratie hole1 [1:46]
1 Traditional Irish; 2 Ryan’s Mammoth Collection; 3Traditional Scottish.
Jordi Savall (5- and 6-string Treble Viols and Treble Fiddle); Andrew Lawrence-King (Irish Harp & Psalterium)
rec. 25-26 June, 7-8 September, 6-7 October, 2008 Monastery of Sant Pere de Ribes (Catalonia). DSD.
Booklet with notes in Gaeilge (Irish), Gàidhlig (Scottish), English, Français, Castellano, Català, Deutsch, Italiano
ALIA VOX AVSA9865 [75:53]
Experience Classicsonline

You can rely on Jordi Savall to do things well, especially in repertoire like this which inhabits the narrow boundary between ‘classical’ and ‘folk’ music. You can also rely on him not to do things in the obvious way, as here where he plays most of this Scots and Irish fiddle music on two different treble viols. That he does so didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this recording; I just wondered why it was necessary when the photograph of Niel Gow in the booklet clearly shows him playing the fiddle. Just three tracks (12-14) are played on a 5-string treble fiddle and even this, an Italian model from c.1500, is hardly the kind of instrument which this music would normally have been played.

Savall’s reasoning is that there is a great affinity between this music and the viol. Granted that some of the earliest music here may have been played on that instrument, since Purcell and Marin Marais both wrote for it when it was well past its sell-by date. Yet, though 18th-century London audiences were still entranced by the playing of Abel (d.1787) on the ‘six-string base’, as witnessed by Dr Burney, a fact of which we have just been reminded by Paolo Pandolfo’s recent Glossa recording of Abel’s music from the Drexel manuscript (GCD920410), it would still seem more logical to have performed the music on the fiddle. I suspect that the real reason for the choice of the viol is that Savall, of course, has had a love affair with the instrument, as he makes clear in the notes, since 1965 and his playing reveals a real affinity with the instrument, both as soloist and as director of Hesperion XX/XXI and le Concert des Nations.

There’s a good variety here, from the mournful, such as Caledonia’s Wail for Niel Gow (tr2.), via the playful, like The Humours of Scariff (tr.3) to the jolly, like Sackow’s Jig (tr.8). Nevertheless, many will find the range rather limited and will welcome the intervention of Andrew Lawrence-King on the Irish harp and psalterium on just over half of the tracks, often very discretely. His more overt intervention makes Hard is my Fate (tr.9), for example, less hard to bear.

Performances by Jordi Savall are almost self-recommending; were I to list even the best of them, this would be a long review indeed and his playing here is no exception. Those familiar with Andrew Lawrence-King’s recordings with the likes of Sinfonye will also know to expect excellence. Try for starters Bella Domna: The Medieval Woman on budget-price Hyperion Helios CDH55207 (see review) if you want to explore his performances further.

Much of the music on The Celtic Viol is anonymous, traditional Scots or Irish. Some of it was collected as early as the late-17th century in Playford’s Dancing Master, but it comes mostly from 19th-century collections. The track list divides the 29 tracks into eight sections, for no obvious reason other than to record the changes from one viol to another or to the fiddle and between the Irish harp and the psalterium.

The recording is good, if a little close; it benefited from a slight volume reduction below my usual listening level, especially when heard on headphones.

One complaint: the booklet of this gatefold package is so large that the CD won’t fit into the usual size of CD slot in a storage cabinet. This is partly because it’s so comprehensive, but also because of the number of languages contained in it - Irish and Scots Gaelic, English, French, Castilian Spanish, Catalan and Italian. The notes by Jordi Savall himself receive a decent, though not entirely idiomatic, translation. Those on the individual pieces by Tom Sherlock began their lives in English.

Most listeners would probably have a fair idea what the Irish harp looks like - there’s even a colour photograph of the two performers, with Lawrence-King playing that instrument, but the booklet might helpfully have described the psalterium employed, an instrument which comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

This is one for the specialist; though I imagine that most listeners would enjoy hearing it, I can’t imagine that non-specialists would want to return to it often. I must confess that I’m much more likely to turn to Savall’s viol playing on such recordings as those of Marin Marais (Tous les Matins du Monde, Alia Vox AV9821 - see review, AV9828, AVSA9851, Auvidis ES9945) and Coperario, the latter currently in need of restoration to the catalogue. For this repertoire, I’m more likely to turn to something a little more full-blooded and foot-tapping from the likes of The Chieftains, whom Savall acknowledges as part of his inspiration.

Brian Wilson


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