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Big Sky 119

Readers who attended the 2004 Celtic Connections Festival Commission Sunset Song will know this music well. It seems a daunting task to try and encapsulate the essence of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's epic 20th Century Scottish novel into around an hour of music. However, through narrative songs (with lyrics by the Pearlfishers' David Scott) and sensitive instrumental arrangements, Wendy Weatherby has succeeded in describing some of this novel's key themes through music: Aberdeenshire's ever-changing landscape, people and farming practices; and war's impact on the land. The thoughts and ideas of the novel's two central characters are conveyed through song by Mairi MacInnes and Rod Paterson, and their voices seem very well suited to the simple, classical style of presentation here.

Sunset Song crosses the classical/folk divide with ease, and instrumentals and songs are nicely sequenced throughout. There's a feeling of lyrical flow, whilst the overall mood created is reflective, nostalgic and sad. Contributions by Leo McCann (box), Frank McLaughlin (small pipes) and several well-known fiddle players ensure that this music remains rooted in Scotland - the strathspeys and reels are expansively arranged and a 'big' warm sound is achieved. Wendy's compositions pay consistent attention to melody. We hear her playing solo cello just once, on the rather stark, bleak-sounding Out of the World, and into Blawearie. Key motifs reveal themselves with each listen, and the reprise of two tunes (The Land and Ewen's Tune) enhances the feeling of 'connection' and continuity throughout the piece. The scoring for strings, piano and oboe especially is both beautiful and melodic - Julie Fowlis in particular reveals her instrumental versatility, her oboe adding a sense of time and place and serenity. This is an imaginative work of considerable beauty, and rewards with repeated listening.

Debbie Koritsas

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This album was reviewed in Issue 71 of The Living Tradition magazine.