Review: Classical Pipe Music – Scotland’s Hidden Treasure

Recitalists Dr Peter McCalister, Dunblane, Stuart Easton, New Zealand, Niall Stewart, Kyle of Lochalsh and Darach Urquhart, Kyle of Lochalsh

By Dr Jack Taylor

One hundred souls braved the pouring rain to listen to ceol mor in Edinburgh’s St Cecilia’s Hall on Sunday evening [Aug 11]. They were well rewarded. This is the second year of ‘Hidden Treasure’ organised by the Piobaireachd Society, and it will surely become an annual fixture. 

It was a pleasure to listen to eight of the best tunes played by four of the best players and not have to think about who was ‘best’.  Rather to relax and take in the music, with its unique structure and sound made only for, and best heard on, the solo Highland bagpipe. 

The performances all had a musical freedom we do not always hear, albeit with hints of competition constraint at times. 

After a brief welcome and explanation by Piobaireachd Society President Robert Wallace, the stage door opened and the sound of Peter McCalister’s finely tuned pipe filled the hall with the strains of the Daughter’s Lament. 

St Cecilia’s Hall, Scotland’s oldest performance venue, has a wonderful acoustic, and if some in the audience were unable to follow the complexity of ‘the Daughters’ they could certainly appreciate the blend of chanter against drone and the rapid embellishments between the long lingering themal notes which make piobaireachd so special.

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As the ground return of ‘the Daughters’ faded the rich deep sound of Niall Stewart’s pipe filled the air. Queen Elizabeth the Second’s Salute is easier on the ear, and Niall added some individual touches to a polished performance. 

Darach Urquhart had a softer sound, but the Blind Piper was no less Obstinate for that, and if Stewart Easton’s pipe was beautifully clear and sweet, we were left in no doubt that the Massacre of Glencoe provoked anger as well as tears. 

After the interval – the entire audience stayed – came the Wee Spree, Donald Duaghal MacKay, Old Men of the Shells and Chisholm’s Salute, all that bit more free and relaxed as the pipers settled into recital mode. Nobody was worried about a small grace-note miss or mild drone waiver. 

Not a drone was touched the whole evening, to no detriment whatever, and the audience applauded warmly before venturing again into the deluge, warmed by a dram. 

I have just two small criticisms of this enjoyable format. Applause should follow each performance – the pipers deserve it – and pipers should learn to take the professional bow of other soloists rather than looking a bit embarrassed and bashful as the audience applauds. 

But that did nothing to spoil an evening of splendid music.

  • The Piobaireachd Society hired a film company to record the evening. The resultant video will be available on the members area of the Society website. Membership of the Society is open to all with an interest in ceol mor. Standard membership is £15 and student £5. Piping societies, bands, Army regimnents can all join the Society as affiliate members. Join here. Read the programme notes from the evening below:

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2 thoughts on “Review: Classical Pipe Music – Scotland’s Hidden Treasure

  1. The recital was beautifully performed, and the follow-on reception was a lovely chance to meet the pipers. Thank you to all involved – it was a highlight of my visit to Edinburgh!

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