Scottish Fantasies for Violin and Orchestra
Scotland sparked the imaginations of many 19th-century composers, whether the main attraction was its landscape, literature, or music. Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy is one of the most durable keepsakes of this infatuation, so it's a fitting starting point for Rachel Barton Pine's Scottish concept album. Other composers had quoted the country's folksongs, but in this violin concerto, Bruch alluded to the persona -- and the particular musical repertoire -- of the Scottish fiddler. In approaching this familiar work, Pine strives to bring out the folk inflections that most violinists bury underneath a heavy layer of German Romantic style, yet much of the other music on this program still comes across as more authentically Scottish in character. That shouldn't be surprising, because compared to their continental colleagues, Sir Alexander Campbell Mackenzie and Sir John Blackwood McEwen were much closer to their own national traditions. Mackenzie's Pibroch Suite is an extremely attractive showpiece for the violin, earnestly melodic with a real workout for the soloist in the second movement's variations. McEwen's shorter Scottish Rhapsody "Prince Charlie" is more dramatic and descriptive; both of these works will be real finds for anyone seeking Romantic violin literature off the beaten path. Pine also gets to show off her technical aplomb in Pablo de Sarasate's tunefully virtuosic Airs écossais, and she closes the program with the most authentic music of all -- and some of the liveliest -- teaming up with Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser for their own newly arranged folksong medley. Like Pine's previous efforts, this is an unusually thoughtful and thought-provoking release, the excellent performances augmented by Pine's thorough program notes and even a video feature (in CD-ROM form), documenting the album's creation and the spectacular beauty of Scotland itself.