Tina Chancey: The Versatile Viol, Scottish and Irish Music. Tina Chancey, bass violas da gamba, fiddle; Joseph Gaschot, harpsichord; Zan McLeod, guitar, bouzouki; Scott Reisse, recorder, whistle, dumbek; Sue Richards, harp; Robert Spates, fiddle. 16 tracks, 61 minutes,  Hesperus: Golden Apple, © 2007, $9.99, available on CD and mp3 format. CD Baby, Amazon.com; and digstation.

Walk into an Irish pub and you will hear sweet music — the kind that keeps you sipping on a Guinness for hours. And if you ask the poet, teacher, engineer, and musician Tomás Ó Canainn, he’ll tell you that the Air is “… a splendid, soaring” piece of Ireland (and Scotland, of course) that must be “experienced to be understood.” Tina Chancey’s enchanting debut album will transport you — not just to the pub, but to the dance floor and the parlor. It is a collection of traditional and composed pieces, like “O’Carolan’s Draft” and “Bridget Cruise,” by the beloved Turloch O’Carolan; Scottish composer Adam Craig’s lovely “John Hay’s Bonnie Lassie” (fl.1730); and, from Burke Thumoth’s (fl. 1742) collection of Scotch and Irish Airs, “The Major” and “Slaunt Ri Pluib.” And while you’re traveling, you’ll hear familiar the traditional Scottish tune “Highland Laddie,” and more.

What makes this collection special, however, is Chancey’s performance on 6- and 7-string bass violas da gamba. Chancey, founding member of the award-winning early music ensemble Hesperus and former member of the Folger Consort, is a master on the instrument. She knows how to turn a simple melody, sometimes with a checkered past, into a work of art — “Black Jock,” from David Johnson’s Scottish Fiddle Music in the Eighteenth Century, for example. Creating an impressive set of variations, she adds drones, her own divisions, and ornamentation, transforming it from a “bawdy street song” into a beautiful instrumental solo.

Joining Chancey on the album are members of Scottish Singer, Katrine Anderson’s back-up band. They are a lively and fine group of musicians. Together they re-create dance sets that have been around for years — like “Flowers of Edinburgh” — along with more recent “improvised” pieces by Tommy Potts.
Country dancers will kick up their heels and fiddlers will find it nearly impossible to resist the urge to pick up their instruments. This cross-over CD will delight the traditional music fan and tempt the early music connoisseur to step over to the wild side. And this is just the first of a series called “The Versatile Viol.”* In the same way that Edgar Meyer engaged a wide audience with Yo Yo Ma and Mark O’Connor (among many others), Tina Chancey takes the fruit of her scholarly-based life’s work and weaves it into the rich folk tradition of the British Isles. With the finesse of an artist and heart of a poet, she has, in my mind, successfully created an album to be cherished.

*The next recording in “The Versatile Viol” series will be released summer of 2009: 18th century sonatas by Jean-Marie Leclair on the pardessus de viole.