Things could worse than to spend the better part of 90 minutes in the musical Scottish highlands, courtesy of nationalistic composers Bruch (1838-1920), Sarasate (1844-1908), Mackenzie (1847-1935), and McEwen (1868-1948). Virtuoso Rachel Barton Pine plays her 1742 Guarneri del Gesu in spirited, Romantic fashion, often throwing ad libitum grace notes and turns into Max Bruch’s popular Scottish Fantasy (1883), dedicated to the guiding spirit of this album, Pablo de Sarasate. Given the immense popularity of Bruch’s contribution to the Scottish legacy of classical compositions, it suffices to call Pine’s performance totally congenial. Sarasate’s own virtuoso showpiece on six traditional tunes was written for his 1893-1894 tour of Glasgow at the invitation of Queen Victoria. Alternating between stately marches and mincing, pyrotechnical reels, the Scotch Airs balances sentiment and wizardry, with many a plucked and double-stopped note as well as treacherous sliding passages. Great flute tone and harmonics from Pine. The orchestral tissue is a slim accompaniment in hearty colors.
The MacKenzie Pibroch Suite (1888) was commissioned by Sarasate for a Leeds Festival performance in 1889. Openly romantic and sentimental, MacKenzie exploits the same combination of violin and harp, with underpinning by strings and horns, as in Bruch‚s Scottish Fantasy. Celtic melos blends with 19th century harmony in vibrant colors, courtesy of “vocal” snaps and turns found in spoken Gaelic. Bagpipe effects resound, especially in the Caprice movement, with its variation forms on a ground (or uerlar motif) that layers one tune and harmonic effect upon another. The use of the solo G string pays homage to both Sarasate and Paganini, as well as the Scottish braes. The last Danse section should keep heart and feet pumping. If Mel Gibson made a sequel to Braveheart, he’d hire Pine to play the soundtrack.
McEwen’s Prince Charlie Rhapsody (1915; rev. 1941) celebrates the doomed rebellion of the Scottish Highland Army led by Charles Edward Stuart in 1745. An introductory phrase in pentatonic, militant guise proves a kind of refrain, appearing in abbreviated form throughout the piece. A meeting at Chicago’s Celtic Fest in 2003 between Rachel Barton Pine and Scottish fiddler Alasdair Fraser inspired the idea of their collaborating on a medley of Celtic tunes for two violins. Pine herself provided the orchestrations. A slow air, Lament of Flora MacDonald, moves to a strathspey and two vigorous reels – one in minor key , the other major – executed with requisite zest. Conductor Platt is a pupil of Simon Rattle, and his presence in these most spirited proceedings is duly noted.
— Gary Lemco