Music review: Niel Gow Festival, Dunkeld and Birnam

Fiddler Pete Clark, organiser of the annual Niel Gow Fiddle Festival
Fiddler Pete Clark, organiser of the annual Niel Gow Fiddle Festival
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This time next year should finally see a bronze sculpture erected in Dunkeld to Niel Gow, the greatest figure to emerge from the 18th-century “golden age” of Scots fiddling, but his legacy is already securely enshrined in this weekend festival, in which the fiddle reigns supreme.

Niel Gow Festival, Various venues, Dunkeld and Birnam ****

Saturday’s programme ranged from grassroots amateurs such as the Falkirk Fiddlers to the chamber ensemble Kist of Musick, with narrator John Shedden, celebrating Gow’s composer son Nathaniel. Accordionist Sandy Brechin engaged in amiable musical colloquy with Swedish players Jimmy Johannsson and Christopher A Bång, Iain MacFarlane and Allan and Ingrid Henderson brought an exuberant west Highland blast, and there was an astonishing slow-burn-to-high-energy performance from Ryan Young with guitarist Chris Amer.

What truly encapsulated this festival, however, were solo performances, paying due regard not just to tune but to provenance. Gillian Stevenson sounded the air Hector the Hero, its ill-starred subject hailing from Easter Ross like herself – and on a three-centuries-old violin that possibly arrived from Italy via Jacobite turmoil, while Jocelyn Petit from British Columbia and Virginian Sean Healy each gave warm, purposeful expression to Gow’s music, which lost nothing of its immediacy in travelling.

Festival organiser Pete Clark, meanwhile, filled Little Dunkeld Kirk – where Gow is buried – with a seamless half-hour of unhurried cadences, culminating in the immortal Lament for His Second Wife, on the very instrument on which Gow probably composed it – the master distilled down to his essence. - Jim Gilchrist