Bach Meets Cape Breton


Puirt a Baroque- connecting Cape Breton music to its Baroque roots —

“The whole album shines with love, skill and intelligence and the harpsichord is so cool it makes me laugh”

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Puirt a Baroque

Bach Meets Cape Breton

David Greenberg – Baroque and Modern violin

David Sandall – Harpsicord

Scott Macmillan – Classical & Steel String Guitars

People all over North America and beyond are being drawn to the incredibly vibrant music of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. On this island, isolated from outside influence until the mid-20th century, the traditional highland Scottish musical culture of the 17th and 18th centuries thrived and mingled with the coexisting Irish and Acadian musics. The happy result is a distinctive and completely irresistible Cape Breton sound.

Puirt a Baroque (pronounced poorsht-a-baroque) is an ensemble that celebrates the music of Cape Breton and of the Baroque era whence it came. The name is a play on puirt a beul, Gaelic for “mouth music” or (literally) “tunes from the mouth,” highland Scottish fiddle tunes sung with lyrics. Thus, Puirt a Baroque becomes “Tunes from the Baroque.”

David Greenberg, fluent in both the baroque and Cape Breton violin styles, leads Puirt a Baroque in a photo from the Pruit session. crossover musical venture that brings normally tame baroque music audiences to their feet and has them dancing in the aisles! Greenberg, a member and frequent soloist with the world-class baroque orchestra Tafelmusik, is described by The Mail-Star music critic Stephen Pedersen in Halifax as “the best baroque violin soloist in Canada if not in North America.” Add to that the fact that he is widely praised within Cape Breton circles as a master of their elusive style, and you get a performer you do not want to miss.

Greenberg is joined by Scott Macmillan and David Sandall, who specialize in the performance of Cape Breton music and Baroque music, respectively. Macmillan has enjoyed an acclaimed career encompassing several styles of music and has many recordings to his credit, including his original Celtic Mass for the Sea, now a fast-selling CD. Sandall’s harpsichord playing is described by Pedersen as “flawlessly executed with a full sound and well-paced phrasing,” and the combination of fiddle, guitar, and harpsichord “such a happy one–mellow, sweet, smoothly textured–there’s got to be a CD in it somewhere.” Whether offering the elegance and sparkle of the Baroque, the driving rhythms and soulful melodies of Cape Breton, or daring to join them together, Puirt a Baroque makes a very real connection with people.

“Toe tapping entertainment that defies description”
– Walt Grealis, RPM Magazine Fall 1996.

Newly formed in 1994, Puirt a Baroque immediately attracted the attention of the CBC, which broadcast one of the trio’s first concerts. This recording, in turn, won them the offer of an extensive tour of the Atlantic Provinces as well as a national broadcast under the auspices of Debut Atlantic, taking place in March 1996. They are recorded their first CD in Halifax in September 1995.

“Successful melding of high, folk cultures”
– Ron Foley Macdonald; Daily News; May 1996.


DAVID GREENBERG, one of Canada’s foremost early musicians, has established a distinguished career as a baroque violinist, vielle player, and Cape Breton violinist. Originally from Maryland, he studied baroque violin with Stanley Ritchie at the Early Music Institute of Indiana University. Mr. Greenberg is a frequent soloist and full-time member with the baroque orchestra Tafelmusik, and a member of the early music ensembles Les Coucous Bénévoles, Seattle Baroque Orchestra, Ben Trobar, and The Medieval Quintet, which won first prize at the Erwin Bodky International Early Music Competition in 1988. He has performed extensively on three continents and has participated in numerous international festivals.

In Cape Breton, Mr. Greenberg is known for being one of the few outsiders to have mastered the Cape Breton violin technique, especially the elusive “old-style” sound of the legendary Mary Beaton MacDonald. He has recorded baroque/classical repertoire for Sony Classical, BMG, and the CBC, medieval repertoire for Focus, and Cape Breton repertoire for Cranford Publications

“Music is fresh and strikingly original”
– Mail Star; March 1996.

As a composer, conductor, instrumentalist, producer and arranger, Nova Scotia artist SCOTT MACMILLAN and has enjoyed an acclaimed career which has encompassed classical, pop, jazz, blues, and celtic music. He has many recordings to his credit, including his original Celtic Mass for the Sea, Guitar Souls with David MacIsaac, and Songs for the Cape with Octet. Mr. Macmillan is also on two of Rita MacNeil’s recordings both as an instrumentalist and arranger.

Born in Halifax, he studied composition and arranging at Toronto’s Humber College before returning to Halifax to pursue his musical career. His original music has taken him from the Montreal Jazz Festival to frequent performances with Symphony Nova Scotia and among the diverse cultural communities in Nova Scotia. Many of his works and performances have been broadcast live on the CBC nationally.

DAVID SANDALL began his interest in early music at a young age. In 1978 he entered Dalhousie University where he had the opportunity to study harpsichord and the performance of early music. After continuing his studies at McGill University with John Grew he traveled to Amsterdam to study with the master Gustav Leonhardt. Since the he has been active as a harpsichordist in Canada. He is a member of the duo L’Intemporel and has been playing with Puirt a Baroque since its formation in 1994.

Born in Montreal in 1959, DAVID SANDALL studied harpsichord at Dalhousie University with Melva Graham and at McGill University with John Grew. In 1990 he studied with Gustav Leonhardt at the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam. He has performed often in Montreal in Pollack Hall and Redpath Hall, as well as in the Maison d’Alcan. He is well known to audiences in Nova Scotia through his many recitals and tours for Musique Royale. In 1991 he toured Holland and Belgium as soloist with the Barok Ensemble Voorschoten. Now living in Halifax, he is an active harpsichordist, church organist and teaches for the Maritime Conservatory of Music.

Puirt a Baroque CD Program order

1 Suite Sonata
1 [Moderato:] Sweet is the Lass that Dwells Among the Heather (trad.)
2 [Vivace:] The Carle He Came O’er the Craft (Lord McDonald)
3 [Adagio:] Peggie I Must Love Thee (trad.)
4 [Giga:] The Honourable Mrs. Drummond of Perth’s Delight (trad.)

2. The Lass Blast
5 The Lass of Pettie’s Mill air/march (trad., set by Adam Craig); Rabbit Teeth reel (David
Greenberg); Minnie Adams’ House reel (Scott Macmillan); A Reel for Kate (Greenberg); The High Street Hornpipe (Macmillan)

3. Pinkie House Medley
6 Pinkie House air/march; Sir Archibald Grant [of Monymusk] strathspey (Daniel Dow); The Duke
of Gordon’s Birthday strathspey (William Marshall); Isla Reel (trad.); Mrs. Grant’s Reel (= The Strathbogie Toast by Marshall); Colonel Macbean’s Reel (trad.); Johnny’s Made a Wadding O’t reel (trad.)

4. E-bee Jigs
7 Meeting John Hartford (Jerry Holland); Lord McPherson of Drumochter(Angus Graham); Sgian
Dubh [The Black Knife]

5. Purcell And Then Some
Suite from Ayres for the Theatre by Henry Purcell, with a Cape Breton “chaser”
8 First Music–Second Music: Hornpipe
9 Second Music: Air
10 Canaries
11 Song Tune
12 Hornpipe (Purcell); The Lads of Leith (trad., set by James Oswald); Sodger Lad jig (trad.)

6. Chaconne
13 Chaconne Upon the Sarabanda Theme from Corelli’s Violin Sonata Opus 5 No. 7
(attributed to Francesco Geminiani)

7. Music from the Mabou Coal Mines
14 Trip to Mabou Ridge march (Dan Hughie MacEachern); Traditional Mabou Strathspey; Angus
Ronald Beaton strathspey (Donald Angus Beaton); Traditional Reel ; Lochiel’s Rant reel (trad.); Carl Beaton’s Reel (D.A. Beaton)

8. Fy Gar Guitar
15 Fy Gar Rub Her O’er With Straw (trad., set by Robert Bremner); Miss Lyall reel (Simon Fraser);
Muileann Dubh [The Black Mill] reel (trad.,); Miss Wedderburn reel (trad.)

9. Niel Gow’s Lament
16 Niel Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife slow air (Niel Gow)

10. Bach Meets Cape Breton
17 Medley of Baroque dance movements and Cape Breton reels
Gavotte en Rondeau–Bourrée (J.S. Bach); Calum Fhionnalaidh [Malcolm Finlay] reel (trad.); Johnnie Sullivan’s reel (trad.); Prince Charlie reel (trad.); Reel Made with Hilda (Hilda Chiasson/Jerry Holland)

11. The Farewell
18 The Farewell air/march (William Marshall)