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Album Review in Living Tradition by David Kidman

Item posted: Tuesday 16th May , 2006

Anna-Wendy Stevenson - Anna-Wendy Stevenson (Eclectic Records)

Young Scots fiddle player Anna-Wendy is already a considerable veteran of touring, having worked with the groups Anam, Calluna and Fine Friday (whose lineup she currently graces), and latterly in a duo setting with pianist James Ross. Now she's branched out on a new project, in name a solo CD, on which she's joined by the aforementioned Mr Ross along with Ewan Vernal (bass) and James MacIntosh (percussion), who together provide a virtually omnipresent yet subtle and always sympathetic backdrop to Anna-Wendy's polished and beautifully moulded fiddling. Initial impressions of this disc are a mite deceptive, for Anna-Wendy's playing tends often to hide its dynamism beneath a finely-honed technique and a laid-back, easy virtuosity. Perhaps, too, the constant underlying presence of the piano gives the whole project a slightly understated ambience that's almost classical in its refinement, yet (just as with chamber music) there's actually a lot more going on than initially meets the ear (an awkward metaphor perhaps, but I'm sure you'll hear what I mean). The programme mixes traditional tunes with modern compositions in decent proportion, and includes three of Anne-Wendy's own (ranging from a lovely air written in tribute to her father to a spirited reel that she even got to play on the dreaded Balamory TV show!). The arrangements are sensible and cool (though not in the sense of unemotional), and textures are at all times intelligently managed; similarly with tempos, which are acutely agile yet relaxed and controlled, for Anna-Wendy doesn't need to show off by frenetic note-spinning and there's evidently no lack of fire or energy within. Her intuitive feel for phrasing is always impressive; I particularly liked her way with Lament For Glencoe and the extra opportunities for display of musicianship on the more extended Dog Bites set. This is a well-recorded and exceptionally musical CD which is likely to give much pleasure.

David Kidman