Reels, Drones & Jigs
Works by Maxwell Davies, Cecilia McDowall, James MacMillan, Judith Weir et al
Champs Hill CHRCD154 70:23 mins
If the words ‘British music’ and ‘landscape’ tend to evoke the likes of Vaughan Williams and Elgar, this enterprising recording debut from the ensemble Perpetuo shows us another possibility. Reels, Drones and Jigs weaves together contemporary classical and traditional folk-inspired pieces, with haunting airs and vigorous dances presented in an appealing sequence.
The programme starts, chugging like a steam train gathering pace, with Ailie Robertson’s Bach-inspired Black Pearl, the first of four pieces commissioned by Perpetuo for its string trio and premiered in 2018 at the St Magnus Festival in Orkney. Aidan O’Rourke’s Edinburgh-homage Canongate follows, suspended in an ethereal world that awakens before us. The mood is immediately dispelled by the thrum and attack of Alasdair Nicolson’s The Insomniac’s Jig (or Ms Humphreys’ Lilt) – offering us a glimpse, perhaps, into the wired brain of the sleepless, and a lively response to Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Luckily, the insomniacs also have the beautiful nocturnal atmosphere of David Fennessy’s Open Field (Come Closer, Come Closer) to offer a soothing balm at night.
The shape-shifting ensemble also gives wonderful performances of recent(ish) works by Judith Weir, James MacMillan, Adrian Sutton and Cecilia McDowall. And the Orcadian thread continues with the islands’ late resident composer Peter Maxwell Davies’s Midhouse Air and David Matthews’s memorial piece A Song for Max. Holding it all together is striking music drawing on Scotland’s folk heritage: Donald Grant’s tender Tàladh and Melinda Maxwell’s haunting Pibroch, the solo line superbly played by Perpetuo’s artistic director, oboist James Turnbull.