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Alasdair Fraser & Paul Machlis "Legacy of the Scottish Fiddle Volume 1" Culburnie Records CUL118D

'Uncommon proficiency and polished taste' - Simon Fraser's flattering description of the dedicatees of one of his tunes sounds like an understatement when applied to Alasdair's playing here. He sails through the considerable technical challenges of the likes of Skinner and Marshall with plenty to spare to concentrate on presenting the music - it's good to hear 'Madame Neruda' played as a tune rather than just a display of technique! Alasdair sets his stamp on classic strathspeys such as James Hill's 'Earl Grey', shaping the phrases with subtle tempo changes but without ever losing the underlying pulse and shape of the melody - the mark of a true master. "In many ways, this is the music dearest to my heart" Alasdair says, and there's no mistaking the depth of feeling (as well as his ravishing tone) in slow airs like Marshall's 'Chapel Keithack'.

A good selection of 37 well known and less known tunes, and wherever you dip into this there is plenty to savour. Yet somehow I wasn't as riveted by the whole album as I had expected. Much as I enjoy slow and medium paced tunes in the classic Scottish style, two or three in a row can become too much of a good thing. And while pianist Paul Machlis's subtle approach works well in the slow airs and strathspeys, in reels I'd rather hear him driving things forward more. A little less taste and subtlety perhaps? Near the end Alasdair cuts loose in inimitable style on a Shetland set, and a set of strathspeys and reels. I'd have liked more of this - maybe on Volume 2? Meantime I'm sure Alasdair and Paul's version of the classic fiddle-piano sound will hit the spot for many.

Richard Brown

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This album was reviewed in Issue 44 of The Living Tradition magazine.