EIF 2015: Celtic Dialogues, Usher Hall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Edinburgh International Festival
Jordi Savall (director, viols), Dennis Cahill (guitar), Martin Hayes (director, violin), Andrew Lawrence-King (Irish harp, psaltery), Frank McGuire (bodhran)
Running time

Performer and musicologist Jordi Savall has almost ten years on this reviewer. It’s worth pointing this out if only to highlight the many years of research and practice that inform the playing of this musician.

‘Celtic Dialogues’ brings together Savall, performing on his uniquely strung double viol, the 4th and 5th strings of which are reversed, along with Dennis Cahill on guitar, Martin Hayes, also Savall’s co-director, on violin, Andrew Lawrence-King on Irish harp and psaltery and Frank McGuire on bodhran.

Working largely independently of the so-called ‘folk revival’ in Scotland and Ireland, and indeed counter-intuitively to it, Savall has dug deep among the many early published collections of Scottish and Irish music to furnish a repertoire that differs significantly from that of other performers of Scots and Irish music, yet has numerous points of contact with those traditions.

Drawing from the collections made by Captain Simon Fraser, Ryans’s collection, published in Boston in 1883, the work of Neil Gow as collected and published by his son Nathaniel, as well as the collections of James Oswald and Henry Playford, Savall and his fellow artists take us on a tour of Scottish and Irish music as it might have been played two hundred or more years ago.

‘Verve’ and ‘élan’ are overused words when it comes to describing music performances, yet both are very applicable here, and one marvelled in particular at Savall’s capacity to consistently reproduce the quality of playing associated with him, likewise the sounds produced by his fellow players.

In both what was programmed as ‘The Lord Moira Set’ – ‘Regent’s Rant’, ‘Lord Moira’ and ‘Lord Moira’s Hornpipe’, as in ‘The Flowers of Edinburgh Set’ – ‘Da Slockit Light’, ‘The Flowers of Edinburgh’, ‘Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife’, and ‘The Gander on the Pratie Hole’, energy tempered with accuracy abounded, while in the concert’s second half, the closing ‘Donegal Set’ consisting of ‘The Hills of Lorne’, ‘Jimmy Holmes Favourite’ and ‘Gusty’s Frolics’ brought the concert to a fittingly contrasted end.

Amongst the many examples of close collaboration one could hardly miss the playing of Savall and McGuire in duo, a combination whose sound made ‘Duelling Banjos’ seem restrained but also less adventurous in comparison.

In all, both an opportunity to hear musicians still producing sounds of remarkable quality and clarity and to hear a repertoire that fully deserves its place on the concert platform.

Event: 9 August