Scots Fiddle Festival,

Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh,

Rob Adams

four stars

The Scots Fiddle Festival marked a new phase with a change of venue and its first commission in its twenty-three-year history.

A celebration of fiddle music in all its styles, with often international guests added to its rich procession of home-grown talents, the festival was rewarded for this latest display of ambition with a sold-out opening night concert and a performance, courtesy of composer and multi-instrumentalist Mike Vass, which drew together fiddle history and a modern interpretation that honoured the instrument’s roots and even a ‘prop’ fiddle that was sacrificed in the name of justifiable drama.

Vass’s The Four Pillars concentrated on the four main tune styles – air, march, strathspey and reel – and laced in vintage examples from School of Scottish Studies recordings of players who had inherited and carried the tradition forward with stories to match. A source of some mirth as well as of great character, these complemented the players onstage as they too carried the tradition forward through Vass’s intuitive tunesmithery and beautiful writing for the four soloists, string quartet, supporting keyboard and percussion and full ensemble alike.

The evening had begun with youthful fiddler Ryan Young playing loudly acclaimed raw and direct tune sets to guitarist Jenn Butterworth’s accompaniment. Vass continued this spare approach in places - Lauren MacColl’s opening air was gorgeously soulful – while also integrating Iain Sandilands’ brilliant, live-wire vibraphone capabilities and imaginative pizzicato work from the string quartet.

His own solo march, to Tom Gibbs’ keyboard accompaniment, was boldly stirring and Patsy Reid, on superb, snap-rich strathspeys, and Jenna Reid, playing reels with marvellous facility, interpreted his melodies with the strong personality and assurance they merited.