Collection: Within a Mile of Edinburgh

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Corri,JC Bach,JL Dussek,Ross,Urbani
LABELS: Delphian
WORKS: Rosline Castle Variations; add works
PERFORMER: Malcolm Green (baritone), John Kitchen (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 34005

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From around 1770 the European bourgeoisie and aristocracy developed a passion for the idealised primitivism of Scottish folk art – witness the ‘Ossian’ craze and the mass dissemination of native folksongs both genuine and fabricated. Haydn and Beethoven, inter alia, found a lucrative sideline arranging dozens of them for piano trio. And the inclusion of a Scottish song with variations in a keyboard recital was a virtual guarantee of popular success.

In this snapshot of a domestic evening’s music-making c1790, folksongs alternate with keyboard variations by composers ranging from JC Bach and JL Dussek to two Edinburgh-based Italians, Pietro Urbani and Domenico Corri. A recipe for guileless enjoyment, you might think. After a while, though (about 20 minutes in my case), attention may begin to wander as yet another folk tune is put through its paces in a series of decorative, knit-your-own variations.

Only Dussek, in his variations on ‘Rosline Castle’, manages to invent interesting keyboard textures. More compelling performances would doubtless have improved the concentration span. Malcolm Green, billed as a baritone but sounding more like a tenor, uses his modest, choral-scholar’s voice pleasantly enough. But there’s next to no wit or relish in his ultra-polite delivery.

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Nor does the workmanlike John Kitchen muster the elegance and élan that might bring at least some of the variations to life – though in fairness he is not flattered by a bathroomy acoustic that lends a hard glare to his early 19th-century fortepiano. One for avid Scotophiles only. Richard Wigmore