Tradfest review: Duncan Chisholm & Beth Malcolm, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh

Both Duncan Chisholm and Beth Malcolm’s Tradfest sets were inspired by the Scottish landscape, writes Jim Gilchrist

Duncan Chisholm

Tradfest: Duncan Chisholm & Beth Malcolm, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh ****

Wide open landscapes and emotions laid bare informed Friday’s opening concert for Edinburgh's Tradfest, auspiciously marked by a hearteningly high attendance and much spirit-lifting music. Renowned as a master of the slow air, Highland fiddler Duncan Chisholm opened his set with a characteristically plaintive melody, When the Snow Melts, accompanied only by pianist Michael Biggins, before the rest of his band – Jarlath Henderson on uilleann pipes and whistle, Innes Watson on guitar and percussionist Donald Hay – joined them on stage.

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Chisholm went on to demonstrate his ability to both evoke place and allow the music to hang in the air with a new composition inspired by Skye’s Loch Coruisk, sounding as limpid as the loch itself had been on his visit, while established favourites such as The Farley Bridge and Donald Shaw’s paean to Sandwood Bay, A Precious Place, were given warm expression. The band, meanwhile, was tightly cohesive in snappily syncopated up-tempo sets such as Big Archie and in a stately slow reel.

Cellist Su-a Lee brought additional velvety tone to the final two numbers, including a set of reels briskly led off by the Henderson’s pipes over thrumming guitar, and an encore, Constellation, Chisholm looking to the stars as “the epitome of hope”.

The opening set from rising young singer-songwriter Beth Malcolm also referenced location as she gave passionately full-voiced delivery to her emotionally open songs, although the slightly clunky tone of her keyboard didn’t always do her full justice. Leavin’ Loch Leven, for instance, evoked the loch itself as much as its imprisoned queen and she injected a jazzy swing into Jim Malcom’s up-beat composition Achiltibuie.

There was wry affection in Drinking at the Oak, but Choose My Company, on the other hand, was a persuasively big-hearted love song, pure and simple.

Tradfest runs until 9 May,