Published: February 28, 2001

High Water Mark

William McCallum
World’s Greatest Pipers Volume 14
Lismor Recordings, LCOM 5284
Playing time: 59 minutes

Reviewer's rating: 5 gracenotes out of a possible 5

Reviewed by Jack Lee

Reviewing great recordings can be a challenging undertaking. One never questions the listening enjoyment or musical talent, only the listener’s ability to be critical. Have you noticed similarities between many CD reviews?

Imagine my difficulty then at the task of reviewing William McCallum’s fourth and most recent recording, listening through the CD once, twice, three and finally a desperate fourth time hoping to catch any flaw so that I’m not seen as Willie’s greatest cheerleader. Actually, I am a friend of his, but he hardly needs me as a cheerleader. Quite frankly, there is nothing wrong with this CD and it is as close to musical perfection as any piping recording ever made. It may become the high water mark to which past and future recordings will be compared.

The most appropriate thing about this recording is its timing. During the past three years, Willie McCallum has been a prize winning machine, surpassing the successes of all other players during that period. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s great pipers–perhaps the greatest. Such a piper performing at his best, recorded at his peak by the World’s Greatest Pipers series. It seems right.

From the first note, any listener would be amazed at the perfection of the tone. The pitch is high and it would be hard to imagine a sweeter chanter sound. The F, for example, is perfect without a hint of cautious flatness. The drones are amazingly solid and in complete tune. This pipe is rich, sweet and impeccably tuned throughout the recording.

The tune selection is another huge plus of this recording. McCallum plays to his strengths with two fabulous piobaireachds and a brilliant selection of light music. He covers all bases: traditional MSRs, 6/8s, airs, jigs, hornpipes, and so on. Is anyone out there getting tired of the slurs and gimmicks often heard today? McCallum uses none of these. He doesn’t need them.

I enjoyed all the selections very much. The first piobaireachd “The MacFarlane’s Gathering” is tremendous. It is bold and musical throughout and demonstrates how the tune should be played. I often teach this tune and will certainly recommend this CD as the best of teaching aides. “The Sister’s Lament” as his second piobaireachd is an inspired selection. It is a short, crunluath-less piece often overlooked by players, yet it has a haunting beauty that is difficult to get out of your mind once you have heard it. The Piobaireachd Society’s Music Committees have been known for selecting abstract or potentially forgettable tunes at times for the Senior lists at Oban and Inverness. I must admit that this tune has been a favourite of mine for many years.

The technique on this recording is superb. You can sense the many years of practice, the top instruction and above all, the drive for quality that McCallum obviously has. I particularly enjoyed the phrasing in the competition MSR.

Jim McGillivray’s liner notes are excellent. He states that McCallum plays “some of the greatest music ever written for the Highland pipes, and plays it as few others can.” This is not a CD for those interested in fast, furious new pipe music. But if great piping is what you are after it doesn’t get better than this.

Jack Lee is one of the world’s greatest pipers. Along with myriad top awards, he has won the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal, the Clasp, and the Silver Star MSR at the Northern Meeting. He is pipe sergeant of the three-time World Champion Simon Fraser University Pipe Band. An accountant, he lives in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

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