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Fiddler Tam - The Saturday Times


12 March 2005
The Times
Ivan Hewett
4 Stars

What a marvellous character the sixth Earl of Kellie must have been. Imprisoned for supporting Bonnie Prince Charlie, he later became one of those furiously dissolute 18th-century aristocrats, a lover of wine, music and women, whose nose was "so red it would ripen cucumbers". And he was a renowned composer, with a hit opera, The Maid of the Mill, that was played from New York to St Petersburg.

You would expect an aristocratic composer to have the typical fault of the talented dilettante, ie, interesting ideas, but no technique to carry them through. But in fact Fiddler Tam, as his retainers called him, was a thoroughly expert composer, well schooled in the latest European trends such as the exciting build-up of tension known as the Mannheim crescendo, of which there are various examples on this CD. And if he was uproarious in his life, the music is always refined, even when it' s being ear-ticklingly original, or darkly mysterious, as in the C minor quartet. Here and there Kellie's Scottish loyalties shine through, above all in Lord Kelly's Reel. The playing by the Scottish baroque ensemble Concerto Caledonia is wonderfully subtle yet vigorous, and the recording captures all its delicacy. A delightful CD.


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