CD review: Spellweaving

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First published in the Guardian on 2 June, 2016

Spellweaving: Ancient music from the Highlands of Scotland
Barnaby Brown, Clare Salaman & Bill Taylor (Delphian)

This is the kind of album whose sleeve notes feature photos of instruments and old manuscripts bigger than photos of their players: in other words, we’re in pretty niche territory here with what is essentially a research project on historic pibroch performance practice — pibroch being the highly regulated ancient classical music of the Scottish bagpipes. But there’s grace and beauty in it, too, so it is worth braving the close-ups of bone flutes and hurdy-gurdies. Piper Barnaby Brown explains that the intent is to “break out of the piping ghetto” and see what happens when other instruments are let loose on that hallowed repertoire. What happens is the music becomes softer, more malleable and (piping purists, look away) more tonally expressive. Bill Taylor gives gentle if learned accounts on clarsach and lyre and Brown takes a spacious solo on a vulture bone flute, but the highlight is Clare Salaman doing bold and sensitive things on Hardanger fiddle with a majestic 15-minute account of The Sutherlands’ Gathering.