May 31, 2003

Fiddle about

The Strathspey King, Original Recordings of the Great Scottish fiddle maestro, 1905-1922
James Scott Skinner
Temple Records, COMD2084

Reviewed by Fiona and Murray Henderson

James Skinner was born in 1843 in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, and lived to the grand age of 83. These recordings were made when he was between 62 and 79. What an opportunity to listen to this genius, made possible only through modern technology.

The Strathspey King, Original Recordings of the Great Scottish fiddle maestro, 1905-1922 exposes Skinner as not only a legendary composer (over 600 pieces and many of them all time classics), but also a very talented performer and something of a free spirit. Note how the accompanist fails to follow his “feel” for interpretation on some tracks.

From a piper’s view track 16 (at age 79) treats us to beautiful phrasing and expression in “Goodbye Gramin.” “The Cradle Song” on track 10 also shows off his lovely expression and how to glide from note to note. One gets the feeling that the musical interpretation gets full precedent!

It’s not often that fiddlers play pipe strathspeys, but on track 17 we get a fine “Maggie Cameron.” It is interesting to hear the faster tempo and differing timing but the lift is very evident for all to hear. What superb birls he plays, too!

At first the tempos and some tuning problems were something Fiona had not expected, but she was very enthusiastic to hear the composer playing a selection of pieces that she herself plays. The more she played it the better she liked his treatment. “It’s definitely a CD you have to hear several times to get the full enjoyment. He makes great use of the bow and his playing is full of colour.” Her favourite track was 12 which she thought was outstanding—all his own compositions: “Mrs. Scott Skinner,” “Mackenzie Hay,” and “Devils Elbow.” “You get it all here—double stopping, dynamics, triplets with lift and bounce.”

As a piece of history alone, The Strathspey King, Original Recordings of the Great Scottish fiddle maestro, 1905-1922 is one for the collection.

Murray and Fiona Henderson live in Kirriemuir, Scotland. Fiona, 13, is a keen student of the Scottish fiddle, and already successful in several competitions. Her father, Murray, is one of the world’s most successful solo pipers, having won stacks of the biggest prizes on offer. A reed maker and bagpipe dealer by profession, Murray Henderson was the subject of the November 2001 Piper & Drummer interview.


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