Concerto Caledonia - Fiddler Tam - John O Groat Journal

Linn Records, using the magnificent tool of Concerto Caledonia, produced no fewer than three CDs of Scottish 18th-century music, all displaying the fact that we have music to be proud of and that we are closer to Scarlatti and Mozart than I was inclined to give credit for. The latest of the CDs to be produced is Fiddler Tam, devoted to the works of Thomas Erskine, 6th Earl of Kellie (1732-1781). By repute an extremely skilled violin player, Kellie had a bad start with his father, a genial drunk who made the mistake of "coming out" for Bonnie Prince Charlie. Thus the father had to flee from Culloden field and eventually was forced to give himself up and serve time in Edinburgh Castle. His son and heir was, however, only interested in music (probably his father's experiences dissuaded him from anything else) and, rather than try and recover the family fortune, spent some of it in going to Mannheim to study composition. On his return he sold off more of the land he had inherited and concentrated on his musical career. Mozart may have heard him in London but certainly Kellie is credited with inspiring J.C. Bach.

Much of Kellie's work has been lost as he tended to mislay his manuscripts in the riotousness of living. He was a celebrated toper and womaniser. It was said of him that his nose was so red it could "ripen a cucumber". His early death reflected, no doubt, his lifestyle. The music is always lively and busy. Quartet In A is a beautiful little piece in three movements, an introductory allegro then an adagio and, finally, an elegant minuet. Overall another excellent CD, fit to join the earlier ones in the series, and superbly recorded.

18 March 2005