Avid newsreaders may have seen that earlier this week it was announced that Scotland has been voted The Most Beautiful Country in the World, and those of us who have enjoyed the privilege of a visit there will know why!
But what about Scotland’s musical heritage? Well again, those in the know can quickly advise that it is one to treasure and to preserve with a passion.
As it happens, the ever-prolific Barbara Arens is one of those in the know…
A Source of Inspiration
In the Preface to her latest publication, A Scottish Collection, Barbara writes:
“Nothing is more thrilling than hearing massed bands of pipes and drums, as well as the rich tradition of folk music. So I come home and sit down at the piano and try to put these impressions into music, trying always to keep the pieces as easily playable as possible – I want my piano students to enjoy them and express themselves through them without struggling with technical difficulties…”
Barbara goes on to explain:
“Some of these pieces reflect my impression of a landscape, standing stones, a sunset over a loch; but some of the pieces are based on actual traditional gaelic songs and tunes.”
There are fifteen pieces altogether in the collection, as follows:
- Ciorsdan Mhór (Scottish Trad. arr. B. Arens)
- Now Westlin Winds (Scottish Trad. arr. B. Arens)
- Comin thro’ the Rye (Scottish Trad. arr. B. Arens)
- Fear a’Bhata (The Boatman) (Scottish Trad. arr. B. Arens)
- It’s a Far Cry to Loch Awe (Barbara Arens)
- Out over the Forth (Scottish Trad. arr. B. Arens)
- Fankle (Barbara Arens)
- Rondo – Charlie He’s my Darling (Scottish Trad. arr. B. Arens)
- Circle of Stones (Barbara Arens)
- The Braes of Loch Eil (Scottish Trad. arr. B. Arens)
- Luss at Sunset (The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond) (Scottish Trad. arr. B. Arens)
- Ye Jacobites by Name (Scottish Trad. arr. B. Arens)
- Gynack Burn (Barbara Arens)
- Johnny Cope Variations (Scottish Trad. arr. B. Arens)
- Inchmahome, Lake of Menteith (Barbara Arens)
The arrangements of gaelic tunes are just as well executed and piano-friendly as one would expect from the highly intuitive pen of Barbara Arens, while the original pieces are certainly evocative of the landscapes and themes they present, while also living up to the character and quality of Barbara’s compositions that will be familiar to many from her other collections.
The advertised level for the collection is UK Grades 3-5, and this seems to me about right.
Most of the piece lie very nicely under the fingers, although some have more challenging rhythms, with “scotch snaps” a familiar feature throughout, and many of the pieces are in compound time. Several include unexpected syncopations that forced me to do a double-take, Luss at Sunset particularly taking me by surprise (but also proving to be one of my favourites from the collection!)
Most are two pages, while a couple (numbers 13-14) last for three. Several of the arrangements might make interesting alternative pieces for future exam syllabi, and all would be welcome additions to student concert programmes and schools events.
A Scottish Collection is brought to us by Spartan Press Music Publications Ltd, a music publishing house situated in the Scottish Highlands whose strong raft of piano composers has also included Ben Crosland, Mark Tanner and John Rowcroft.
This is the first Spartan Music publication I have reviewed, and I am certainly most impressed with the presentation and quality. A sturdy cover (shown above) features a photograph of an inviting Scottish scene, and houses a well laid out score, with clearly engraved and well-spaced notation. Most pieces are preceded by a short note from the composer, giving background information for the pieces and nicely sparking the player’s imagination.
Barbara Arens’ A Scottish Collection fills its particular niche very well indeed, and overall I found this whole collection a pleasure to play. Some of the pieces are lovely in their simple depiction of a fabulous scene, while others seem to dance with wild abandon.
The evocative and stylised writing throughout is highly picturesque, adding up to a wonderfully musical depiction of The Most Beautiful Country in the World.
The Spartan Press website includes MP3 recordings of all the pieces, PDF Download samples of 6 of them for FREE download, and purchase of the book via mail order.