A Tradition of Excellence
40 minutes playing time
Reviewed by Major Gavin Stoddart, BEM, MBE
I first heard Angus MacColl playing at a ceilidh in Oban a long time before he trod the competitive boards. He struck me then as a piper of promise and one that we would hear a great deal from in the future. Once Angus launched himself on the competition scene he quickly built an excellent track record and quickly established himself as one of the world’s finest pipers.
a tradition of excellence starts off with a set of two well played competitive 2/4 marches. If I were to be critical it would be that they were played slightly round for my taste and the doublings on the bottom hand were thinner than their counterparts especially double C in the last bar of the part. Also in the last part of “John MacColl” I like to hear the first note drawn out more before the grip.
An excellent hornpipe and three jigs followed. “Raigmore” by Ally Reece is a fine composition and Angus certainly brings out its music. He was accompanied from the repeat of the first part and although I felt the entrance was sudden it was tastefully arranged. The jigs are really well played and it is clear that Angus enjoys playing this style of music.
Next follows two 6/8 marches, “Farewell to the Creeks” and “Mrs. Lily Christie.” “Farewell to the Creeks” starts well but I felt it was a shade round in the last part. “Lily Christie” is well played and expressed throughout. 6/8 marches are often underestimated as it is harder to express them as well as a competition 2/4 and is due to the difference between compound and simple time. In compound time you often have to play the beat group (crotchet and quaver) as two dotted quavers to get the correct expression.
A set of competition strathspeys and reels come next. “Maggie Cameron” is excellently played with good lift and expression, “The Shepherd’s Crook” follows, which is deceptively hard to point and play well. Angus plays it well enough, but it doesn’t have as much polish as the first strathspey. What pays off well in strathspeys is to hold the expressed notes as long as possible so that the short ones are indeed short. “Off beats” are also very important. The reels “The Rejected Suitor” and “Major Manson” are each played technically very well but again for my taste a shade round. I like to hear the strong accent more in reels and this has the added advantage of controlling the tune. Often when a piper speeds up in reels it is because he did not hold the strong accent. Off beats in the first bar of the first and last part of “The Rejected Suitor” must also come out strong.
A slow air and reels are next with accompaniment in the reels, which at times overpowers the pipe chanter. Angus obviously enjoys playing this type of music and there was a feeling of freedom coming out. There was also an effective lift in tempo from about the middle of the reels.
Three excellent 9/8 marches come next, all well played, and Angus brings out the music well. “Children of Larbert” is another fine composition by Drum Major Bob Bruce, ex-Gordon Highlanders.
A march, strathspey and reel, all composed by Pipe Major Donald MacLeod, follow. We all know how musical Wee Donald was and his compositions are quite superb. “Donald MacLellan of Rothesay,” “Captain Colin Campbell,” and “Fiona MacLeod” are no exception, and again Angus brings them to life with good, solid finger technique and excellent expression.
There then follows two small strathspeys and reels with first class accompaniment. Again Angus was in his element with excellent fingering. We have become accustomed to hearing “The Devil in the Kitchen” as a strathspey and reel but not “Lady Madelina Sinclair.” The arrangement of the third and fourth parts of this tune reminded me of “Pibroch of Donuil Dubh”
A set of 4/4 marches was next all played well with plenty of expression.
We are then treated to two old stalwarts: “The Highland Wedding” and “Abercairney Highlanders.” These tunes are classic competition marches of similar ilk, very unforgiving and extremely difficult to play well. No problem here for Angus and “The Highland Wedding” is played as well as I have heard with good solid fingering and plenty of depth to his embellishments, especially the birls. “Abercairney Highlanders” is played to perfection. My father referred to Abercairney as “the pipers graveyard,” and it took me many years to understand what he meant! This was a particular favourite of mine when I was competing and I had many good days with it but just as many bad. If you relax for the slightest moment you can throw away any chance you may have had of scraping in even at the bottom of the prize list. For me this was the “highlight” of the CD.
To finish with we were treated to that lovely air by Arthur Gillies, “Samantha’s Lullaby.” This is a beautiful piece and the arrangement was well put together.
This is a well-produced CD, which will appeal to a large audience. Although I am a traditionalist at heart, I do like to hear the pipe played with other instruments, particularly if the accompaniment is very well arranged with the pipe in mind as these were. All too often you hear dominating arrangements and place the pipe in a supporting role, which is sacrilege.
Angus MacColl is a very musical and talented player and displays that he is capable of giving top class performances in both the lighter music as well as the difficult and more demanding competition tunes. He is such a good piobaireachd player that I was disappointed he did not include even a short sample of our big music.
Major Gavin Stoddart is one of the best competitive pipers of the twentieth century. With both Gold Medals to his name, he also won the aggregate award at the Grant’s (Glenfiddich) Championship twice and both ach of the Former Winners MSRs at Oban and Inverness. He lives in Seafield, Scotland.
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