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ROB MacKILLOP "Graysteil" Dorian Discovery DIS 840141

Rob MacKillop does not regard himself as an early musician nor a folk musician but a Scottish musician playing Scottish music on Scottish instruments. This non-elitist attitude gives him ready access to both musical camps with the kind of easy confidence he exhibited when he appeared on Travelling Folk's live Dundee concert in June. He played an understated set of five short tunes on lute and two on its baby sister the mandour.

In "Graysteil", his second collaborative CD with William Taylor and Paul Rendal, MacKillop reveals his skills as a researcher and interpreter of Medieval and Renaissance Scottish musical scores. The precise authenticity achieved by this collection of twelve works which together please the senses for almost an hour is a shared triumph with clarsair Taylor as all arrangements are by both.

The album opens with the Orkney Wedding Song, an anonymously penned 13th century work in three distinct parts ranging from monastic solemnity to expressions of celebratory joy. Tenor, Paul Rendal's clear enunciation of the Latin lyric blends richly with MacKillop's medieval lute and Taylor's wire-strung medieval clarsach which also provides a sharp spiciness to Sanctus Voce vita from the St. Andrews Music Book of the 13th Century. The Hymn of St Magnus, the third track, is a controlled performance by Rendal whose vocal harmonises precisely with MacKillop and Taylor's instrumental lines. Here Taylor plays a wire-strung 26 string clarsach which gives the piece a taut edge. The next two tracks are once again occupied by competent Taylor solos but MacKillop is given the following five in which to express his virtuosity on the 7-course Renaissance lute made by Martin Haycock of Chichester. This central motif is softer, more lyrical, seductive and contemplative than the more aggressive-sounding wire-strung clarsach.

The penultimate track, Mass a 3, by Robert Carver dates from the reign of James IV. This Mass setting, in five sections, is dominated by Taylor's Gothic harp fitted with brays which give each note a metalic resonance. The counterpart technique of harp and lute throughout creates a competitive tension.

The final eponymous track is the highlight of the whole album. The discovery of this epic poem from the royal court of 1497 and its catchy tune recorded in the Straloch Lute Book of 1627 is attributed to John Purser. It tells the story of Sir Eger who is defeated on the field of honour by Sir Graysteil who in turn is killed by the avenging Sir Gryme but Sir Eger's mistress believes the champion of the day to be none other than her lover. The true victor marries Lady Lillias who has lovingly tended to Eger's wounds.

When Sir Gryme dies Sir Eger confesses his duplicity, his mistress seeks solace in a nunnery and Sir Eger expiates his guilt by going on crusade and finally in the comforting arms of Lady Lillias. Traditional singer and baritone Andy Hunter lends this very much abridged version (the whole being three hours long) a natural gravitas borne effortlessly in a comfortable style. His delivery is contemporary and historically accurate but I would like to hear Adam MacNaughtan performing the same piece with his own sense of bravura. Every two verses there is a reprise played on a 30 string wire-strung clarsach and the 7-course Renaissance lute which create a counter melody improvised from a simple theme.

This evocative album was recorded virtually live in the 15th Century Rosslyn Chapel and is accompanied by an informative booklet that offers the uninitiated listener guidance towards understanding the music, instruments and performers.

Marshall Anderson

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This album was reviewed in Issue 23 of The Living Tradition magazine.