Nicola Benedetti Comes Home For A 'Scottish Fantasy'
After a decade of music-making, including albums focusing on Italy, Mendelssohn and the movies, violinist Nicola Benedetti finally comes home on “Homecoming: A Scottish Fantasy.” Max Bruch’s four-part “Scottish Fantasy” is paired on this release with a collection of folk melodies, familiar tunes, and songs of lyricist and poet Robert Burns.
The “Scottish Fantasy” by Bruch opens the album. Although he never once visited Scotland, Bruch’s evocation of the land is anchored by his use of folk melodies, including “Auld Rob Morris” and “Hey Tutti Taiti/Scots Wha Hae.” Despite the latter being known as a battle hymn, Benedetti’s sound isn’t brittle; her deft and soft touch befits the warmth of this music from some of the coldest and windiest climes in the United Kingdom. The “Scottish Fantasy” is a challenge for soloist and orchestra, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra joins Benedetti for a rousing, prideful performance.
If this were an LP, the half-hour long “Scottish Fantasy” might make up Side One. The second half of “Homecoming” features Benedetti playing songs with either the orchestra in accompaniment or — in a first for the young violinist — a session with traditional players including Phil Cunningham (accordion/piano), Julie Fowlis (vocals), and fiddlers Aly Bain and Duncan Chisholm. The group shines on the lively “Hurricane Set” and the lilting “The Gentle Light That Wakes Me” by Cunningham.
The most beautiful songs on the album, though, are by Robert Burns, whose writings influenced many in the English language, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to John Steinbeck, and even Bob Dylan, who told the UK’s Daily Mail in 2009 that “My Love Is Like a Red Red Rose” is the lyric that had the greatest inspiration on his life. That song is here on “Homecoming,” as well as a lush arrangement of “Ae Fond Kiss” and a sparse take on “Auld Lang Syne” that brings out the melancholy in the lyrics, which are more often sung with great joy by revelers on New Year’s Eve.
Benedetti, who was born in West Kilbride, on the west coast of Scotland, was clearly inspired by these sessions. She writes eloquently in the liner notes about the music of Max Bruch and the challenges she faced when adapting her trained hand to the rootsier music on the album. From this listener’s perspective, “Homecoming” is a session you won’t want to miss.
Recommended tracks: "Ae Fond Kiss," "Hurricane Set," "Scottish Fantasy, Mvmt. 4"