A night of national treasures – Edinburgh

Edinburgh Evening News 15th June 2009

Kilts were swung, sporrans were flung, and many a sturdy brogue was set a-tapping at the Festival Theatre on Saturday evening as The Scottish Fiddle Orchestra took the stage. They may not be to everyone’s taste, and folk purists may baulk at many of their arrangements, but what they do they do well. Nobody in the audience had any complaints as they whisked their way through a night of reels, jigs, two steps and lilting slow airs.

Hosted in avuncular fashion by the Beechgrove Gardener, Jim McColl, the show got off to a great start with a grand march composed by the orchestra’s Musical Director, John Mason. It was stirring, hand-clapping stuff, and just perfect for getting the audience in the mood for the evening ahead.

Concentrating on the themes of Homecoming and the 250th anniversary of Burn’s birth, there was much sentimentality in the choice of music, with the slow air ”The Forres Cradle Song” beautifully played by soloist June Nelson, bringing a tear to many an eye. Singers James Nicol and Debra Stuart also helped the warm and fuzzy atmosphere with renditions of tunes to tug the Scottish heartstrings, such as Byron’s Dark Lochnagar.

Towards the end of the first half saw the introduction of three young highland dancers, Catriona and Marnie Clark and their friend Solana Johnstone, who, along with the very talented young piper Andrew Brodlie, put on a wonderful display full of life and vibrancy.

The show went into the interval on a high, with the SFO joined on stage by the Craigmount High School Pipe Band for the sousing and stirring “Highland Cathedral”, the sort of music that makes you want to paint your face blue and shout “Freedom” at the top of your voice.

The energy levels were kept high on the orchestra’s return, with the uplifting tunefulness of the Reel of the 51st Highland Division pumping out gallons of Scottish pride into the auditorium. Debra Stuart then returned with the cheeky Bluebell Polka, followed by the pleading Jacobite anthem “Will ye no Come Back Again”.

The rest of the evening belonged to Burns, with songs and music written by and inspired by the bard. James Nicol gave full-throated versions of “Scots Wha Hae” and “Ae Fond Kiss”, and Yla Steven’s haunting playing of “Major Graham of Inchbrakie”, famous as the tune to “My Love is a Red, Red Rose”, held the audience spellbound.

For the climax of the evening, Tam O’ Shanter and Cutty Sark Overture used all the talent available on the night, with the orchestra to the fore. The pipes of both Craigmount and the very talented solo piper Keith Easdale were put to great use, and the highland dancers portraying Tam’s witches was a lovely touch.

The night ended with “Auld Lang Syne” and the crow spilled out into the historic streets of Auld Reekie with songs in their hearts, tunes on their lips and national pride glowing around them.

“That was the perfect night out for me”

AH, Newington: “Absolutely lovely, the playing was magnificent and it was so joyfully done. I’ve always loved Burns, and to hear the singing and music was a treat. The sound of the full orchestra when it’s playing the reels, particularly the 51st Highland Division, was so powerful and truly carried you along. I definitely plan to see them again when they come back in December”

M. McK, Warrender: That was the perfect night out for me. Wonderful playing and music and you could see that the performers enjoyed it as much as the audience. I loved the reels and Tam O’Shanter was spectacular, but probably my favourite parts were the slow airs. I remember my father playing the Forres Cradle Song when I was a child, and hearing it played so well tonight brought back happy memories. I thought the Highland Dancers and the wee piper were excellent and very talented.

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