Return of the Wanderer - Puirt a Baroque

by Wil Macaulay
Puirt a Baroque (poorsht-a-ba-roke) released their first CD Bach Meets Cape Breton in 1996, to instant critical and popular acclaim, winning an East Coast Music Award in the classical category. The CD was quickly followed by Kinloch's Fantasy, which followed a similar format, though substituting Terry McKenna's guitar for that of Scott MacMillan.

Their new release Return of the Wanderer is a departure on several fronts. For the first time it includes vocals (from Stephanie Conn) and guest musicians from well outside the art music sphere. The cover is no longer a reproduction of a baroque era fiddle shindig, but a more modern photo of the band. Paul Mills has done an outstanding job of the production of this CD, with a sound that is more immediate than the others.

As before, the repertoire ranges from Baroque-era Scottish art music composers to contemporary Cape Breton tunemakers.

David Greenberg's violin can range from the gritty - strathspeys that keep the feet moving to sweet - virtuosic melodies from Baroque era Scottish composers. The fiddle music on this CD - jigs, reels, marches and strathspeys - is real dance music in the Cape Breton tradition, not a watered-down version. Affection for the music is obvious, but so is respect for its own idiomatic challenges - a respect that is clearly mutual, judging by the number of Cape Breton fiddlers that have included David's own compositions in their repertoire.

David Sandall's harpsichord provides a different texture to the accompaniment from the more usual Cape Breton style piano - I did wish for a little modern piano in places, though, given the limited dynamic possibilities of the harpsichord. Maybe next time?

Terry McKenna's steel-string and baroque guitars, on the other hand, provide ample dynamics.

Guest musicians on the CD include Curly Boy Stubbs on guitars, Abby Newton on cello, Kate Dunlay on fiddle John Allan Cameron on vocals.

The CD contains vocals in both Gaelic and Scots. I am not a Gaelic speaker, but I found Stephanie Conn's singing compelling on the Gaelic songs, especially the title track, where John Allan Cameron provides backing vocals. I especially enjoyed the puirt a beul (mouth music) duet between Stephanie and David Greenberg.

The songs in Scots I found less appealing, especially the ballad Johnnie Faa, which seemed to be an attempt to pronounce the Scots as if it were written in Oxford English - my personal taste is to pronounce Scots as a Scot would. After all, if you were singing in French or Italian you would try to use French or Italian pronunciation. The sheer power and authenticity of the rest of the music makes this even more obvious than it would otherwise have been.

Tuesday November 24 marks Puirt a Baroque's CD Release Celebration Concert at the Tranzac Club,
292 Brunswick Ave., Toronto
Admission $10 ( $8 for Tranzac and Flying Cloud members) 416-657-1708

Return of the Wanderer
Marquis Classics
30 Kenilworth Ave
Toronto Canada
M4L 3S3

 1   Joy Go With My Love
 2   The Highland Watch
 3   St Martin's Church Yard
 4   Return of the Wanderer (Gaelic)
 5   The Nether Bow
 6   Johnnie Faa
 7-9 Mackintosh Sonata
 10  Logan Water
 11  Tullochgorum
 12  Memories of St Paul Island
 13  Three Sheep Skins
 14  The Haughs of Cromdale
 15  Lament for William Chisholm
 16  The Flowers of the Forest
 17  Return of the Wanderer (English)

Copyright 1997 Wil Macaulay

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