IRENE WATT: Clarsach and Voice

NILS ELDERS: Guitar and Voice

This second Music at One felt as if Fiona Kennedy had invited us to a family party in her own home. She is one of those fortunate performers who radiates a charm that enfolds you instantly in her musical embrace. It was a wonderfully happy and welcoming performance. Her programme included three hymns and various folk pieces with one solo piece performed by her clarsach partner Irene Watt. Irene also provided vocal harmonies in the chorus sections of the songs. Guitarist Nils Elders, originally from Holland now works in Aberdeen as does Irene Watt who also teaches clarsach.

The first piece in the concert was a contemporary version of the hymn ‘For the Beauty of the Earth’ which Fiona heard sung by Michelle Swift from Nashville? It had a smoothly flowing simple melody and Fiona gave us a lovely heart-warming performance which the familiarity of the words made me feel at home.

Fiona moved on to one of the most famous of all English folksongs, ‘Greensleeves’ which she said had been composed by Anne Boleyn for Henry VIII. It is nice to think so, but some claim it was the other way round. The only written history of the piece claims it to have been composed later, during the Elizabethan era. It was registered at the London Stationer’s Company in September 1580 by one Richard Jones. But who cares! As a journalist in the film ‘The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ said, ‘If the legend is better than the truth, then print the legend!’ Greensleeves is one of England’s most beautiful tunes and Fiona Kennedy with Irene Watt providing vocal harmonies gave it one of the most delicious ever performances. I loved it!

Irene continued the performance with a piece for solo clarsach from Oregon in the USA. There is a river in Oregon called the McKenzie River. Irene told us that there are many Scottish connections with Oregon as the name McKenzie would indeed suggest. She called her piece ‘McKenzie Drifter’ and afterwards Fiona remarked that the music had a lovely fast-flowing element that was powerfully descriptive. She was dead right!

For the next piece, Fiona took us right back to North East Scotland with a song written or collected in the 1800s by one George Scroggie entitled ‘Fareweel to Tarwathie’. Tarwathie is near Strichen and deals with a man on a whaling ship thinking of his home. It is popular on the worldwide folk circuit and has been recorded by Judy Collins.

‘Fareweel to Tarwathie

Adieu Mormond Hill

               And the dear land of Crimond

 I bid you fareweel’

Once again the duetting voices of Fiona and Irene were absolutely lovely together.

The hymn ‘Be Thou My Vision’ is particularly attractive. Fiona sang the opening verse unaccompanied most beautifully. Then Irene joined in with voice and the piece built up as the clarsach and then in the last verse the guitar came in.

Those who heard the previous concert may remember the Gaelic song ‘Christ Child’s Lullaby’ composed in 1855 by Father Ranald Rankin of Fort William. Fiona sang just three of the thirty verses beginning in Gaelic then moving in the last verse to English. Irene joined in on the repeated Alleluias as did guitarist Nils Elders.

Never look down on folk music. After all so much classical music has its roots in folk music. Russian music for instance and much English music too, think of Vaughan Williams and Britten. We still await an explosion of Scottish classical music. We have so much fantastic folk music that could spark off something special. So thank you Fiona and friends. My only regret was having to leave your wonderful musical party when the screen went blank at the end. Never mind though, Fiona whetted our appetites for next week’s concert featuring Roger and Kathleen Williams. Bring it on!