Full of the Highland Humours

Full of the Highland Humours
Ensemble Hesperi
EM Records, EMR CD074. 62’05

I have heard the impressive Ensemble Hesperi several times live (one review is here), and welcome this debut recording, the result of a successful crowdfunding campaign. Building on their exploration of the repertoire of 18th-century Scottish composers, and the influence of Scottish music on London’s musical life, this attractive recording reveals London’s cross-cultural influences from Scotland and Italy. The CD title comes from Henry Playford’s A Collection of Original Scotch Tunes: Full of the Highland Humours, the first collection of Scottish music known in London.

Alongside rather Italianate Sonatas by Sammartini, Geminiani, Oswald (his Sonata of Scots Tunes) and Thomas Erskine, Sixth Earl of Kellie (with two Sonata movements), are pieces by Playford, Nicola Matteis, and traditional pieces arranged by Ensemble Hesperi and James Bremner, including the latter’s concluding arrangement of the delightfully entitled Hit her on the Bum.

The opening Air for Summer: The Poppy by Oswald initially sets a gently swinging bucolic air to the proceedings, before a livelier second section. It introduces the inevitable Scotch Snap ornament and the exquisite recorder playing of Mary-Jannet Leith, which continues on several other tracks, including the virtuosic concluding Allegro of Sammartini’s Sonata VI. Mary-Jannet Leith also wrote the information programme notes.

Cellist Florence Petit impresses in Oswald’s Alloway House, as does Thomas Allery in his harpsichord solo, James Bremner’s Maggie Lauder and Magdalena Loth-Hill’s sensitive violin playing in several pieces.

Whatever your interest in music inspired by Scotland (and they do have some gorgeous melodies, as I recall from my childhood with songs from my Scottish-descended mother), this recording is a delightful listen with outstanding playing from a talented young group.