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Haydn: Scottish Songs - The Poker Club Band

Haydn: Scottish Songs - The Poker Club Band

BIS  BIS-2471

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Haydn: Scottish Songs

The Poker Club Band


Between 1791 and 1804, Joseph Haydn arranged some 400 traditional songs for publishers in Scotland and England. Almost all of the songs were Scottish and the most common setting was for voice and piano trio. There has been numerous recordings and performances of the arrangements by these forces, but on this disc The Poker Club Band offer their listeners something quite different. Taking its name from one of the Edinburgh clubs at the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment, the ensemble consists of four early music specialists and a traditional singer. They have retained Haydn’s violin and cello, but the keyboard part has been adapted for harp and guitar following indications that the harp was commonly used for contemporary performances of Scottish traditional repertoire. The Gaelic singer James Graham, with his idiomatic Scottish timbre, and the period instruments – of which Masako Art’s single-action pedal harp from 1809 is known to have been in Scotland around the time – brings us that much closer to what a performance in an Edinburgh salon might have sounded like around 1800.

The songs themselves range from the cautionary tale of a girl who married for love and now is doomed to a life of hard and dirty work on her husband’s farm (The Mucking of Geordie’s Byer) to love songs such as Oran Gaoil, with a text by Robert Burns. Providing variety, some instrumental 18th century arrangements of Haydn originals are included while the disc ends with the well-known atmospheric Lament by the Scottish fiddler Niel Gow.

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Review by Adrian Quanjer - January 23, 2020

It is very tempting to shorten my review by copying everything Robert von Bahr’s says in his promotional text because I couldn’t agree more. The voice of James Graham is, indeed, not the best trained in the world, but had these songs been sung by a qualified opera singer, it would have been a total disaster. James Graham’s singing “with his idiomatic Scottish timbre”, makes all the difference, adding largely to recreating the environment of the days these traditionals were common currency in Scotland.

Listening to them, I can picture myself back in Brig O’Turk, a tiny, rural community in the Scottish Trossachs, tucked in between Loch Achray and Loch Venachar. Enjoying a hearty meal in The Byre Inn in front of an open log fire. It is wet-cold outside, intensifying the feeling of cozy, protected comfort inside. And yes, it is Saturday live music night. Guess who's playing? The Poker Club Band. I feel in Gaelic heaven.

Down to earth, and after a reality check, The Poker Players turn out to be much more internationally oriented than the cover title suggests. The Single-Action Pedal Harp player, and leader of the band, Masako Art, comes from Japan; the baroque fiddler, Sabine Stoffer, is of Swiss origin; the guitarist (romantic guitar, though he is mainly a lutenist), Edin Karamazov, was born in 1965 in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina; and finally the Frenchman, Pierre-Augustin Lay, from my own, Normandy’s historical capital, Caen, playing a beautiful copy of a Joseph Guarneri cello made by Patrick Robin. (Full details of the poker club can be consulted in the liner notes). On top of that, the recording wasn’t made in Scotland. The sessions took place in the Kirche St. German, Seewen, Kanton Solothurn, Switzerland.

We may ponder over the virtues of having a ‘natural’ voice, all other members are, without any exception, highly qualified players. Having earned their laurels in leading international baroque orchestras, they ably turn a seemingly modest folk event into something -as Robert says- “irresistible”.

There are many other recordings of Haydn’s Scottish Songs around, but none like this one, with the use of a single-action pedal harp instead of a pianoforte. And not just ‘a’ single-action pedal harp, but Ms. Masako Art (née Fujimura) plays the one “built in February 1809 at Erard's workshop in London; it was by chance shipped to Wood & Co., Edinburgh (the music shop Muir, Wood & Co. on Leith Street), almost certainly used in Edinburgh salon music scene at the time”.

Although the recorded quality (24/88,2), doesn’t meet the usual highest attainable standard, I can assure prospective buyers that they will not be disappointed. My advice: Sit yourself down in a comfortable chair with your favourite book, or the detailed liner notes, giving a wealth of useful information, and let yourself be ‘beamed up’ to The Byre Inn in Brig O’Turk. A heavenly experience awaits you.

Blangy-le-Château, Normandy, France

Copyright © 2020 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

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