Updated Dec 5, 2023
Jacqueline Schwab - Mad Robin, Reflections on English Country Dances for Solo Piano
(Midsummer MR 223 CD)
by Ryan Thomson
Being a long time New England resident and frequenter of dances and dance camps, I've had many opportunities to hear Jacqueline's playing in person. Her exceptionally fine musicianship has always impressed me but on this CD her playing is simply the best I've heard. She takes advantage of every subtlety of shading and dynamics that the Bosendorfer grand used in the recording is capable of producing, and I'm just talking about her pianistic technique! Her improvisational skills with the traditional tunes similarly match up to the level of a master jazz player.
This music isn't jazz however, its a collection of English dance music, Celtic aires, and even a version of a recently composed tune, My Cape Breton Home, by fiddler Jerry Holland. I suspect that as a soloist on this recording she is able to have complete control of where her musical journeys go and so the listener is treated to an especially tasty fare.
Playing for a dance is one thing, and she's great at it, but playing dance music on solo piano with an interpretation built from many years of dance playing, gives us a deeper experience of how she actually feels about the music. I feel that her emotional expression in her playing on this CD surpasses even her immense ability on the piano.
Listeners unused to traditional melodies from the British Isles, and particularly the "English Country Dance" genre of music, may describe this recording as having a "New Age" feel, but the huge difference between many New Age recordings and this CD is that many of the underlying tunes have the appeal of a long history(hundreds of years) of being tried and true. The tunes include: Round About Our Coal Fire, The Beggar Boy, Mad Robin, Sally in Our Alley, The Young Widow, My Cape Breton Home, Easter Thursday, Jacob Hall's Jig, Cupid's Garden, Rose of Sharon, Glen of Thickets, Cheshire Rounds, O'Connell's Lamentation, The Dressed Ship, and Smithy Hill.
By the way, the liner notes on this recording are particularly well done also, and give an especially good glimpse into both the history and present state of traditional English country dance.
Written by Ryan Thomson, 2000