Music Reviews : Fraser Fiddles in an Auto Showroom

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Only in Los Angeles would a car dealership be considered a historic site. It certainly made for some odd juxtapositions: like an ambulance roaring past a few feet away on Wilshire Boulevard while inside the Simonson Mercedes-Benz showroom Alasdair Fraser, in kilt, played 18th-Century Scottish reels for a large Chamber Music in Historic Sites gathering.

The concert featured the early-music quartet Concerto Amabile with soprano Susan Rode-Morris and Scottish fiddler Fraser. It proved an aurally easy and solidly performed event, a lively distillation of 18th-Century Scottish music.

The musical historian, however, would have had many questions. Who arranged the pieces marked as traditional , for instance? Surely only the tunes were traditional, not the arrangements. Though generally in keeping with the arrangements credited to Haydn and Francesco Barsanti, at least one sounded suspiciously New Age. It was also difficult, at times, to know exactly what was being performed, as pieces were grouped together without pause.


Two trio sonatas, “The Ranunculas” and “The Narcissus,” by Scottish composer John Oswald, proved the musical finds of the Sunday evening, charmingly melding folk tunes into a sophisticated Continental style. Eight songs arranged by Haydn were welcome as well: though mostly set straightforwardly, occasionally the composer surpasses himself, as in “The White Cockade” with its clucking violins. Rode-Morris sang these with fluent grace and theatricality, but her words were largely unintelligible, and no texts were provided.

Fraser romped through a number of traditional dances, smiling, stomping his feet, whipping up momentum. The magical moment came when the tightly wound strathspeys sprang into the reels, played by Fraser in swinging eighth notes: it’s like reaching the top of a Highland hill and running down the other side.