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ALASDAIR FRASER & NATALIE HAAS - Highlander's Farewell

ALASDAIR FRASER & NATALIE HAAS - Highlander's Farewell
Culburnie Records CUL123D

There is no doubt that Fraser and Haas are among the finest duos performing Scottish music anywhere. Their first recording was a stunner, certainly one of the best CDs of 2004. Number two was more laid back, and this third release builds on their shared experience with tunes from all over the fiddle world. The list of composers reads like a retrospective on Alasdair's career: Duncan Johnnstone, Fergie MacDonald and Gordon Duncan from various parts of Alasdair's native Scotland, Howie MacDonald and John Morris Rankin from Nova Scotia, Anton Seoane and Dominique Forges bringing influences from his European tours. Nathaniel Gow is represented too, of course, along with many traditional tunes whose composers may have been known to Gow but are lost to us.

There are just three of Alasdair's own tunes here, and none of Natalie's. McLaughlin's Strathspey is a towering example of the classic Scottish dance form which I heard this duo perform live at Celtic Connections 2011: the recorded version is every bit as captivating. Whitewater is a powerful driving reel inspired by California's Yuha River. Alasdair Fraser is well known for slow airs, and his composition Craigmont doesn't disappoint: written in the grand Speyside style, its sweetness and strength are brought out in equal measure by the fiddle and cello.

With highlights aplenty, Highlander's Farewell is a recording not to be missed. One or two things about it bug me, though. Fergie's great tune The Jig Runrig needs no introduction: so why do we wait 45 seconds here? Swapping the melody from fiddle to cello and back again is something of a speciality for Fraser and Haas, but on this recording there's a tendency for the fiddle harmonies to overpower the lower notes: and in any case, I'm not sure that any amount of arrangement justifies a five-minute version of Gloomy Winter. Niggles aside, Highlander's Farewell is extremely enjoyable. I particularly like Farewell To Nigg, The Ramnee Ceilidh, and that excellent old Perthshire reel The Pitnacree Ferryman which certainly warrants its four minute spot. Fraser and Haas have gathered a gaggle of great guests on this album, but it's the core pairing of fiddle and cello which makes this CD something special.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 89 of The Living Tradition magazine.