This 2-CD set consists of various Scottish fantasies performed by violinist Rachel Pine and "fiddler" Alasdair Fraser. I have only listened to the Bruch, but that has given me more than enough upon which to comment:
The trouble with this recording is that it could make one not want to listen to any others, which would be a shame because the Heifetz recordings deserve their status as definitive. (I have in mind the nicely engineered 1961 stereo version with Sir Malcolm Sargent. Bruch: Concerto for violin in Gm; Scottish Fantasy) Indeed, I never thought I would hear a performance to challenge Heifetz's; in one sense this recording does just that: it is now my co-favorite with Heifetz's; but in another way it cannot challenge Heifetz's because the respective approaches operate as if in different dimensions. Both find the heart and soul of the music but in almost opposite ways: Heifetz's is fire-and-ice cool but simultaneously intense (doesn't sound possible; but that's the miracle of Heifetz); Pine`s is more relaxed and overtly soulful. Pine summons as much virtuosity as Heifetz when appropriate, including his fearless tempi. There was one spot in the first movement where Pine had less intensity than Heifetz and less than I would have liked, but she proves later on that that was an artistic choice, as she had plenty of fire to breathe when needed. (I am sorry to bring up the Heifetz so much, but I know of no other recording against which it is worth comparing.)
She has an entirely different approach to maximizing the emotional impact of the piece, using fewer slides than other violinists, instead bending phrases with such exquisite perfection that one is moved to tears, sometimes wistful, sometimes joyful. Rarely have I heard a classical piece "sold," as in the way a torch-song singer would interpret an evergreen, to such great effect.
Decorating the piece as if illuminations on an ornate sacred manuscript, Pine sprinkles Scottish ornamentation all over the place, beginning sparingly but working up to a degree that sent chills of delight up and down my spine. This must surely be the most Scottish of all the world-class performances of this work. All in all, she took rather greater liberties than usual for a classical performance, but for me they were all in unerringly good taste, highly individualistic yet not self-indulgent nor in violation of the musician's duty to channel the composer. The difference between this and less successful efforts at freshening up an old favorite is that this interpretation is so *honest*; there is no trace of arbitrariness, no sense that the artist is doing something just to be different. She does wear her heart on her sleeve, but in the very best of ways: intelligently and always in control.
A violinist friend of mine with whom I listened to this recording, remarked that there was a time in which women violinists made a point of playing especially vigorously, overcompensating for their gender, in order to compete with the men, and that he was very pleased to observe that in the playing of Ms. Pine that era was behind us. Clearly this is a woman comfortably at home with employing femininity in her playing when it serves the cause of the music; and the ability to be soft and muscular at different times in the same piece adds so much more color and variety than anything inhibited by issues of masculinity or femininity. The matter of color is one in which Heifetz and Pine converge from different directions--they both have it to a far greater degree than many late twentieth-, early twenty-first-century violinists; and yet, again, they achieve it in quite different ways, Heifetz with an arsenal of bowing, sliding, and vibrato techniques; Pine, with rubato and ornamentation.
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra provides sensitive, precise, and spirited accompaniment; and the engineers have bestowed exemplary sound. I simply cannot praise this recording enough, and I must beg the reader not to attempt to make a choice between the Heifetz and this one; with the exception of those who consider any soulful outpouring as too sentimental, everyone should own both recordings.