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Thomas Erskine - Concerto Caledonia - Fiddler Tam


01 April 2005
MusicWeb-International.com
Colin Scott-Sutherland

The name of Thomas Erskine, 6th Earl of Kellie (and Lord Pittenweem) is little enough known today. That is other than perhaps to those cognoscenti in the East Neuk of Fife who frequented the concerts at the Reid School in Edinburgh where, together with the lesser General Reid, his name was kept alive. Yet in his day (born 1732) he was held in very high regard as a musician, a violinist and composer - and at the same time notorious for his irresponsible life-style, dying at the age of 49. (See David Johnson's "Music and Society in Lowland Scotland in the 18th century", 2nd edition. The Mercat Press, 2003. pp. 68-84)

An exact contemporary of Haydn, his London musical ‘coming out' took place on his return from the Grand Tour during which he had taken lessons from Stamitz and had embraced the then novel disciplines of the Mannheim style. Described by Thomas Robertson: "this great composer has employed himself chiefly upon symphonies, but in a style peculiar to himself, while others please and amuse it is his province to rouse and almost to overset his hearers. Loudness, rapidity and enthusiasm announce the Earl of Kellie!"

Very little of Kellie's music is still extant - a good proportion of it on this recording. It is however representative enough of the young composer - much of his late work lost - to appreciate something of his stature. The concert here includes the highly successful B flat Overture "The Maid of the Mill" - a thoroughly attractive work, the fine A major Quartet (reviewed in these columns in performance by the Edinburgh Quartet ), Trio Sonatas and two beautifully sung vocal items - all showing something of more than considerable promise for mature development. If we are unable today to assess what might have been, then it should not lessen our enjoyment of this selection played with warm enthusiasm by Concerto Caledonia. A glimpse of the less serious ‘Fiddler Tam' as he was popularly known, is Lord Kelly's Reel even though followed here by a melancholy Largo reflection upon death. The disc concludes with the 6th of the Trio Sonatas, the flute replacing the violin which "sings away as happily as a bird in Springtime" in the words of John Purser's eminently readable and informative notes.


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