Published: April 30, 2000

Enlightened Musical Load

A Concert of Piobaireachd from the 1999 Edinburgh International Festival
Greentrax Recordings, CDTRAX 5009

Leave it to Greentrax Recordings to once again take piping down a well-travelled, but strikingly different, road. While the more established Lismor seems to struggle for survival putting out compilations from old recordings, Greentrax has put together consistently high quality original solo piping, drumming and pipe band projects.

The latest of which is A Concert of Piobaireachd from the 1999 Edinburgh International Festival. This 52 minute CD captures the playing of six piobaireachd players—Roddy MacLeod, Willie McCallum, Allan MacDonald, Robert Wallace, William MacDonald (Benbecula) and Barnaby Brown of Skye—who combined forces in an event at the Reid Hall in Edinburgh in August 1999 as part of the Edinburgh Festival’s spotlight on piping.

It’s all piobaireachd—and pibroch—as Allan MacDonald likes to stress, with interpretations of established hits, like MacLeod’s rendition of “Too Long In This Condition” and Wallace’s “Old Woman’s Lullaby,” to Allan MacDonald’s interpretive “Glengarry’s March,” to Brown’s nearly lost “Hioemtra Haentra,” resurrected from the from the Campbell Canntaireachd.

What made the concert unusual (aside from the fact it was all piobaireachd / pibroch all night) was the fact that immediately after one tune was performed, the next player took the stage. No tuning was allowed, and, thus, the concert was seamless and free of the usual, excruciatingly boring, seemingly endless tuning that ruins many piping performances.

Instruments are virtually perfect in every instance, but the sounds of the pipes vary dramatically. McCallum and MacLeod come out with modern, sharp competition instruments, while Wallace prefers a lower-pitched piobaireachd pipe. Barnaby Brown, however, plays an instrument reflective of that which may have been played in the 18th century, thus lending even more realism to his re-enactment of the music of the time.

There are many highlights on this project, but certainly one of the best is Allan MacDonald’s “Cìll Chriosd.” His rolling, rhythmic interpretation of the famous tune, complete with urlar repeated between each variation, brings the already lively pibroch to even more life. It’s terrific, also, to have at least a small record of the playing of Willie MacDonald, even though his “Finger Lock” is truncated. Willie McCallum’s “Lament for Hugh” is yet another example of this great piper in his prime.

In a thoroughly modern twist, pipers interested in the music from this recording can visit Pibroch.net to learn more.

While it would be easy to conclude that this is a recording for hard core piobaireachd aficionados, this project has much to offer the musically curious. It’s a great example that we are indeed in an Age of Piping Enlightenment.

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