Review by Judith Caldwell
Among the many celebrations of Scottish poet Robbie Burns Hammer Baroque offered a program of Caledonia Connections, which did not involve haggis, although there was Scottish Ale at intermission. Music was supplied by soprano, Meredith Hall, Julia Seager Scott’s harp, cellist Laura Jones and Alison Melville playing flute and recorder. These ladies are all excellent musicians with impressive resumés, and they played a collection of very interesting instruments. Seager Scott had her triple string Baroque harp which was probably developed around the 1640’s. Her 34 string clarsach (or Scottish harp) was probably in use around the year 1000 and it looks exactly like the one on the Guinness logo.
* Jones played a 4 string Baroque cello and Melville played an assortment of recorders and a Baroque flute. The flute and harp combination sounded suitably Celtic and the well-articulated bass line of the cello at times sounded like the chanter of the bagpipes, a perfect backing for the poetry of Burns.
The afternoon began with The Lazy Mist, a rather depressing traditional autumn song about ‘the foppery of summer’ being gone, arranged by James Oswald. Then four gorgeous instrumental tunes written by the blind harpist Turlough O’Carolan, one of which was mainly played on the clarsach and another mainly on the recorder, really got into the spirit of the times. Hall said that Burns had written the words for Craigieburn Wood to aid one of two suitors for a young ladies hand. It made a beautiful spring love song even though it failed to win the fair maid who married the other young man only to be dumped a week later. Older more mature love was represented by ‘When O’er the Hill’, an intimate pledge of domestic fidelity, love and understanding earned through many shared experiences.
Three more instrumental pieces of Baroque style music with a Scottish flavour by Oswald, Gunn and Thumoth rounded out the first half of the program. After samples of shortbread and Highland Scottish Ale supplied by the Highland Brew Co. at intermission it was back to O’Carolan for four more of his beautiful and at times haunting instrumental compositions. These were followed by four very different songs with words by Burns all extoling the glories of nature culminating in a delicate and emotional Ye Banks and Braes o’ Bonnie Doon for voice and flute. It was a breath- taking performance right through the unfortunate rumbling of the snow plow outside.
Melville introduced Third Sett in G (1735) as a work in four short movement by Alexander Baillie dedicated to a female recorder player- most unusual for that time. It was a lovely piece performed by Melville. The concert concluded with two songs, ‘What can a young lassie do’ about a young maid married to a much older man. Far from feeling sorry for her, by the end of the song her groom was to be pitied as she was very handy with both insults and threats. Finally, the capacity audience were invited to join in the choruses of Auld Lang Syne. A fitting climax to a wonderfully Scottish afternoon.
Next concert is Feb 16th; 4pm at the ‘Rock on Locke’ with Jonathan Stuchbery, theorbo and baroque guitar.