November 30, 1999

Cairn on the Hill a Lesson to Us All

“The Cairn on the Hill” is the latest in the growing trend towards preservation of the music of Robert Brown. The very successful “Masters of Piobaireachd” volumes have already been released on CD, compiling archive recordings of the “Bobs of Balmoral,” two of the most influential teachers of piobaireachd in the last century.

“The Cairn on the Hill” is actually a re-release of a vinyl recording made in the 1960s, but long deleted by whatever record company originally put it out. Digitally mastered, the new CD comprises eight tracks, three being piobaireachd, the music for which Brown was most noted.

Bob Brown would have been in the very later years of his life when he made this recording, and that’s where the biggest problem lies. Although it’s wonderful to have recordings of his renditions of “Cill Chriosd,” “Lament for Alisdair Dearg,” and “The Old Woman’s Lullaby,” the remaining five light music tracks perhaps should not have been put out again.

There’s no doubt that Brown was a top-flight player of ceol beag in his prime, but on this recording he is clearly well past his best playing days, even if he does perform well for a man in his seventies.

The piobaireachd tracks (and especially “Glengarry’s March”), as can be expected, are sublime. These are where the real value of the recording rest. Pipers new to piobaireachd can listen to and learn “Alisdair Dearg,” a lovely piece with plenty of musical brilliance, and truly hear the song in “The Old Woman’s Lullaby.”

The re-release of “The Cairn on the Hill” is welcome for its piobaireachd, but, unfortunately, the decision to include the light music tracks perhaps does not do justice to this great piper’s true playing ability.


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