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Bellevue Rendezvous Bellevue Rendezvous
Album: While Rome Burns
Label: Journeyman
Tracks: 10

This inventive "Scottish-based acoustic trio with a broadly European repertoire" has remained astonishingly consistent since I first encountered their music around eight years ago, shortly after the release of their first CD (Tangents). Their lineup has remained unchanged - Gavin Marwick (fiddle), Cameron Robson (cittern, jaw harp) and Ruth Morris (nyckelharpa) - as has their stylish individual blend that first impressed me so much when I saw them in concert around that time. Their combined sound is rich and lyrical, sumptuous yet marvellously detailed, with a felicitous control of dynamics and a naturally empathic internal balance between the parts. The nyckelharpa, of course, has latterly become quite accepted in folk bands, to the extent that it's no longer the exotic, obscure rarity it once was - but it's still a beast to master! So it's to this outfit's credit that while the instrument's expansive, full-bodied tonal quality is a gloriously present element within their sound, the nimble, intricate and expertly judged contributions of the fiddle and cittern are never submerged or taken for granted, for either proves just as capable of carrying the melody line and invariably gains the breathing space to do so.

As was the case with the previous two Bellevue Rendezvous albums, the repertoire on this new disc consists largely of tunes of European origin which are reliably and meaningfully interspersed with compositions by Gavin that are also "defiantly European" in nature, with one or two by Cameron thrown in for good measure. There's even a varied set of Scottish tunes (track 7), the centrepiece of which is a strathspey from the Simon Fraser collection. Disparate sources and styles notwithstanding, the sense of musical unity is always very strong, as the album journeys delightfully from a set of tunes from the Galician band Berrogüetto, via the hauntingly beautiful Norwegian tune Hvit Marsj, to an intensely invigorating set of polskas (track 4) and onwards via tunes from Finnish band Värttinä and de Danaan, a pair of contrasted tunes by latter-day exponents of the hurdy gurdy, and ending with a flourish on a sirto composed by an Armenian/American oud player. Everything's played with an enviable panache, yet there's never any sense of parading technique and virtuosity for its own sake.

The sheer universal elegance of the trio's performance, at whatever tempo, evokes an indelible image of music being played almost at the end of time - and although expanding the disc's title into "nyckelharping while Rome burns" might sound a trifle clumsy, there's nothing clumsy about their scintillating music.

David Kidman