Gig review: Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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Fiddlers! Your pins intemper fix, And roset weel your fiddle sticks; But banish vile Italian tricks Frae out your quorum...

Scottish Fiddle Orchestra

Usher Hall, Edinburgh


SO COMMANDED Edinburgh’s 18th-century bard, Robert Fergusson, in his great festive poem The Daft Days. And strings, very many of them, had indeed been rosined with a vengeance, as the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra assembled at the Usher Hall on Thursday night, to play with a gusto which perhaps reflected the fact that 64 of them were due to fly off to Shanghai the next morning for a nine-venue tour of China.

With some 80 musicians on stage, massed fiddles augmented by accordions, flutes cellos, basses, piano and a considerable percussion section, this was clearly Scots fiddle music in its most popular incarnation, as demonstrated by a packed and enthusiastic audience.

The proceedings may have started with a solo piper, Martin Duncan, striding down the aisle, but the orchestra, conducted by Blair Parham, was soon in full flight with the near-mandatory opening One Hundred Thousand Welcomes. Not too many surprises here, with fairly predictable but zestfully delivered repertoire such as Roxburgh Castle, Caddam Wood and some snappy Schottisches, as well as a vigorous two step, The Horticulturalist, written by the orchestra’s leader, Bill Cook, for the evening’s MC, Jim McColl, of Beechgrove Garden fame. Gentler-paced material included Scott Skinner’s great air The Music of Spey, although I don’t think such a limpid melody gained anything from the tinkling accentuation of a mini-xylophone over the strings. Surprisingly, there were no solo fiddle spots.

Vocal interludes came in the form of unabashedly auld-farrant favourites from mezzo soprano Debra Stuart and tenor James Nicol, with Stuart including a full-toned Piper o’ Dundee and Nicol delivering Scots Wha Hae with take-no-prisoners resonance. There was also some spirited dancing from young Catriona and Marnie Clark and Solana Johnstone and a nod to the orchestra’s imminent tour destination with the Chinese melody Jasmine Flower (via Puccini’s Turandot).

A highlight saw the orchestra joined by Craigmount High School Pipe Band in the popular Carol of the Bagpipers, a Christmas tune borrowed from the Italian zampogna piping tradition, with the pipers, led by poised young pipe soloist Andrew Brodlie, joining the strings with impeccable timing and impressive flourish.

So Fergusson’s poetic imprecations were ignored, though this particular Italian trick turned out to be far from vile.