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PETE CLARK "Sycamore" Inver Records INVER 224

Tayside fiddler Pete Clark is joined here by The Neil Gow Ensemble (six fiddles, a viola, two cellos and a bass) for an album which is halfway between an orchestral suite and a dozen sets of fiddle tunes. There's a mix of traditional dance music and atmospheric pieces, all composed by Pete Clark and arranged for a string ensemble. Inspired by the scenery around The Hermitage near Dunkeld, Sycamore succeeds in evoking the Scottish rural landscape and the lifecycle of an extraordinary tree.

From airs to strathspeys, waltzes to jigs, there are over two dozen tunes on Sycamore and many of them can hold up their heads alongside traditional Scottish melodies. Some fit perfectly here but would be out of place in other settings, and others will doubtless join the repertoire of fiddlers and bands countrywide. "Croftinloan" is a first-rate strathspey, full of bite even on massed fiddles. Several of Pete's reels are equally good: I'll mention "Dalguise Hall" in particular, which combines Shetland rhythm and Perthshire melody. On the orchestral side,"The Planting" is a nicely constructed piece with a catchy melody and "The Firth Of Tay" is a grand, sweeping, majestic composition with an undercurrent of sadness and loss which ends the recording perfectly.

Whether you want to listen to this CD as a single musical work or treat each track as a separate entity, whether you thrill to the sound of six fiddles or prefer to learn the tunes yourself, this recording can be enjoyed over and over again and will yield something new each time.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 53 of The Living Tradition magazine.