Concerto Caledonia - Mungrel Stuff -

If you know the fine recordings of the Baltimore Consort, the opening tracks of this equally worthy effort by the vocalists and instrumentalists of Concerto Caledonia will seem very familiar. The Edinburgh-based ensemble's unusual program of "Scottish-Italian" music includes 18th-century songs--ably sung by soprano Mhairi Lawson and tenor Jamie MacDougall--and instrumental pieces performed by flutes, various bowed and plucked strings, and harpsichord. The song-settings are by composers such as Francesco Barsanti and Lorenzo Bocchi, Italians who spent years in Edinburgh, as well as Francesco Geminiani, who was based in London and never visited Scotland yet provided Scots song arrangements in his Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick. Other pieces are by native composers such as William McGibbon, William Thomson, and James Oswald--and by the fascinating Alexander Reinagle, Glasgow harpsichord teacher, son of Edinburgh's state trumpeter, friend of C.P.E. Bach, organizer of opera houses in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and piano teacher of George Washington's adopted daughter!

Baltimore Consort fans--and everyone else who listens to this disc--will be pleased to hear the distinctive, virtuoso flute playing of Consort-mainstay Chris Norman, unquestionably the world's foremost performer of this repertoire (and a consummate musician by any standard), whose wide-ranging skills are on display as both soloist and accompanist in exciting and affecting selections such as Barsanti's "Gilderoy", "The Highland Laddie", "Clout the Caldron", and "Johnnie Faa". But lest you get the impression that this is just a knockoff of programs you've heard before, you should know that the disc also includes an absolutely charming, thoroughly entertaining A major violin sonata by Veracini (Op. 2 No. 9), played with lots of charisma and impeccable technique by soloist Adrian Chandler, another sonata by McGibbon ("in imitation of Corelli"), and solo harpsichord pieces by Domenico Corri (Duncan Gray) and Reinagle (Steer her up and had her gawn), for which David McGuinness makes the most of his instrument's colorful effects.

There's also A Scots Cantata by Bocchi (one of the composer's attempts "to establish pastoral opera in Edinburgh"), and although soprano Lawson tries a bit too hard to imbue this unremarkable trifle with something of musical or dramatic importance, her rendition of Oswald's beautiful song "Pinky House" is perfectly lovely. Likewise, tenor MacDougall engagingly sings his several songs with warm, appealing tone and intelligence, sounding for all the world like a young Peter Pears in Geminiani's "Bessy Bell and Mary Gray", "Leader Haughs and Yarrow", and "The Lass of Peaty's Mill". All of the performers here show exemplary skill in their varied solo and ensemble roles, and together with the imaginative programming make this a must-have disc for all lovers of 18th-century "popular" music. Linn maintains its high standards of sonic quality here--and Concerto Caledonia director David McGuinness adds detailed and informative notes.

01 September 2001