Edinburgh International Festival review: Breabach

As a part of My Light Shines On, the Edinburgh International Festival has commissioned some of Scotland’s leading artists to create extraordinary works that audiences can enjoy from their own homes.

Breabach hail from the Scottish Highlands and Islands, uniting musical traditions from their home and further afield.

Breabach ****

Filmed in an empty Leith Theatre, the powerful Highland band Breabach manage to cram a variety of moods and tones into this mere 14-minute set.

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With fiddler Megan Henderson sharing lead vocals with guitarist Ewan Robertson, plus Calum MacCrimmon and Conal McDonagh playing pipes and whistles (MacCrimmon also doubling on bouzouki) and James Lindsay on double bass, they can create a powerful sound indeed. The one arguable advantage of a performance constrained to video is that the sound tends to be meticulously balanced.

Accordingly, their opening song, Birds of Passage, is clearly delivered by Robertson, its migratory eloquence carried nicely by Henderson’s fiddle. The subsequent Last March is a gently paced affair introduced by bass harmonics and low whistle and taken up by drifting fiddle, gradually cranking up tempo for a climax before subsiding.

The fireworks are reserved for the closing Knees Up In Hanoi. We don’t know what shenanigans inspired the tune, but as Henderson and company lace the Gaelic song Dòchas Glan Na Fàire through MacCrimmon’s Highland fiery pipe reel, one can only presume they must have been memorable, as McDonagh joined MacCrimmon, their twin pipes crackling to thrilling, almost phased effect.

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