The Routes Quartet use the classical string quartet structure of two violins (Gràinne Brady and Tricia Mullan), viola (Emma Tomlinson) and cello (Rufus Huggan), a combination rarely seen on the British folk scene. Their music comes from the tradition of these islands, and also original and self-penned material inspired by the tradition.
Even though all the instruments are stringed, this ensemble is capable of producing a wide range of beautiful and exciting sounds and textures. Windrose is their debut album and was recorded live in St Columba’s Chapel on the Drimnin Estate in Argyll.
From the opening track, Roisin and Paddy (written by cellist Rufus Huggan), the classical ensemble works well, while still maintaining a classical sound. Elements of contemporary classical music creep in from time to time, with scrunchy (but not unpleasant) chords.
The Routes Quartet are skilled at arranging tunes in a variety of styles and moods, whether traditional or original. Fenham (Kathryn Tickell) opens this with a beautiful, sorrowful melody on the viola, with a high trill on violins in the background. Higher strings then take over the melody.
The texture becomes more complex as the cello develops a counter melody. Driving chords add drama. The lower and higher strings again take it in turns to carry the melody, with the rest of the ensemble playing gentle pizzicato. This passionate tune is particularly well-suited to the cello.
Rufus Huggun’s other contribution to the album is Drimnin Otters and is very different in character. This piece has a pizzicato intro leading into a gently atmospheric tune which builds layers onto the foundation of the introduction. A change of pace half way through heralds a more complex tune.
Retreat Marches consists of two tunes by John MacKay and Neil Gow respectively. The opening is rather mournful with the lower strings taking the lead. The second tune is a sharp contrast and is much more danceable (Steeleye Span fans will recognise it as the tune used for Cam Ye O’er Frae France). The ensemble works together here to produce an urgent mood.
Gràinne Brady’s The Quartz Jig contains some very dramatic moments. Alternating bowed and plucked chords provide the foundation for the melody. The rest of the ensemble joins in, giving a lovely rich sound. This is a tune to have you dancing round the room.
Windrose is a successful fusion of classical structure and traditional freedom.Shelley Rainey
Released on Routes Records, July 2017.
1. Roison and Paddy
2. Night Mouse
3. The Gentleman’s Farewell
6. The Quartz Jig
7. Retreat Marches
8. Drimnin Otters
9. On Land and Sea