Music review: Scots Fiddle Festival 2019, The Pleasance, Edinburgh

Now in its 24th year, Edinburgh’s annual weekend celebration of the fiddler’s art rarely fails to provide a heartening showcase of talent, not least of the emerging young-generation players, and Saturday’s programme proved no exception, with many of the afternoon recital artists having come from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, while the evening saw the festival’s admirable Youth Engagement Project take the stage.
 Recital guests included the trio Farrland, led by Glasgow-based German fiddler Bernadette Kellermann, with guitarist Calum Morrison and David Shedden on whistles, matching a mellifluous sound with some thoughtful arrangements.
Liz Carroll PIC: Marianne ManganLiz Carroll PIC: Marianne Mangan
Liz Carroll PIC: Marianne Mangan

Scots Fiddle Festival 2019, The Pleasance, Edinburgh ****

They were followed by the more eclectically accented Madeleine Stewart Trio, with Glasgow-based American fiddler Stewart flanked by Rory Matheson on keyboard and bodhran player Craig Baxter, their opening tune careering cheerfully over rapid-fire bodhran before taking on a swing, while their closing set became quite a transatlantic hoedown.

There was a more overt meeting of jazz and folk worlds in the duo of pianist Fergus McCreadie and fiddler Charlie Stewart, both award-winners in their respective genres and replacing the billed Gavin Marwick, who was indisposed. There was relish and spark in their exchanges, although spoiled by needless over-amplification, with booming keyboard especially swamping definition.

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Some more sonically restrained moments were rewarding, particularly the air In Praise of Uist, the melody gradually coalescing out of McCreadie’s limpid piano soundings.

The big event of the day, however, was the appearance of Irish-American fiddle star Liz Carroll with the fine Scots accompanist Jenn Butterworth, and the pair hit the ground running with a trio of reels, fiddle singing and skittering over the intense thrum of Butterworth’s guitar.

They followed up with a pair of jigs that sounded positively delighted with themselves to be let out, skipping along with lightsome energy.
 Amid the string-driven exuberance, there were gentle interludes: Planxty Charles Bunworth had a stately delicacy while Carroll’s slow air, A Lane in Kerry, was suffused with unashamed sentiment and a lingering glow that perhaps reflected the Jack B Yeats painting that inspired it.

The concert was opened by the energy of the Youth Engagement project, 15 youngsters led by Highland fiddler and teacher Adam Sutherland, who had worked with them over the preceding months.

Their group composition 470 Million Years may have related to the immensities of geological time, but their music-making was utterly of the minute.

The evening also featured yet another fast-rising, hard-driving young quartet, Gnoss, its members also products of the conservatoire – fiddler Graham Rorie, Connor Sinclair on flute and whistles, guitarist-singer Aidan Moodie and percussionist Baxter, who had already appeared with Stewart’s Trio.

Their fiddle and whistle-led sets were rattlingly full on, though with some interesting song choices, including a tender setting of a George Mackay Brown poem.

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The grand finale had Carroll and Butterworth joined by Gnoss, Stewart and Sutherland’s assembled tyros, with Carroll circling, playing to each of them as much as to the audience – a palpable instance of music in transmission. Jim Gilchrist

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