Baroque and Traditional Music of Ireland and Scotland
Northern Records – no catalogue number; 61 minutes; 2003
Loud Whisper is an American-based group whose six members play a wide range of instruments, including both the traditional (harp, flute, whistles, bodhrán, guitar) and the eclectic (bowed and plucked psaltery, bombarde, bells, and church and reed organs). The main figures behind the group are George and Arthur Hoar, who have recorded a sizeable number of CDs in various other genres, notably contemporary jazz with Trikus, traditional jazz, and Baroque music.
This CD combines their interest in the Baroque and the traditional, contrasting eighteenth-century arrangements of Scottish tunes by the Italian composer Francesco Barsanti with their own arrangements of traditional Irish and Scottish material. Barsanti, like many other continental composers of the time, had travelled to London in 1714 with Geminiani (who was later to visit Ireland), and settled in Edinburgh between 1735 and 1743 after marrying a Scots woman. Towards the end of his time in Edinburgh he published arrangements of Scottish folk songs, his A Collection of Old Scots Tunes (1742), six pieces of which are featured on this CD. Scottish material also found its way into some of his compositions, and it would have been interesting had they been included on the recording, as it would have shown the extent to which he had absorbed elements of the Scottish tradition, as well as enabling the listener to judge how much arrangement of the original songs had taken place.
It is clearly evident that a lot of work has gone into the other arrangements on this CD as well: apart from the Barsanti pieces, there is a lot of well-constructed harmony and counterpoint accompanying the tunes. Stylistically however, most of the pieces on the CD are played in a more 'classical' idiom, and the sense is of classical musicians playing traditional music in a more artistic manner, rather than say traditional musicians borrowing classical music techniques as was the case with Ó Riada (and subsequently The Chieftains). The best selections on the CD are consequently the Baroque pieces and more classically-arranged pieces: Carolan's Welcome has nice interplay between guitar and harp; the harpsichord adds greatly to the texture in Alas! The Pain in My Heart; and the two recorders and pipes on Thro the Wood Laddie form a delicate and pleasant combination. In fact 'pleasant' was a word that reoccurred to me while listening to this CD, highlighting the overall lack of any real exciting, virtuosic and stirring music. (The faster tunes are the Irish reels and jigs - more of these anon.) In fact, the one place where the music really takes flight features a guitar improvisation in a more jazzy idiom on The Fermoy Lasses, suggesting that this genre is more close to home for the musicians. This is only a minor point though, and despite this, the baroque arrangements are always well played and attractive - and the settings of tunes such as The Coolin (played in an eighteenth-century harp style with variations) illustrate the transformation traditional Irish music has undergone in the intervening years.
In addition, there are seven selections of traditional Irish material played in a more contemporary manner, and unfortunately here the CD's quality drops considerably (with the exception of Bryan O'Lynn, which features some imaginative guitar accompaniment). The problem is that the musicians don't appear to have yet mastered a truly traditional style of playing (not to say that they won't), or alternatively that they tried to apply an imagined Baroque style to these sets, which when considering that some of the tunes in question are unquestionably modern (The Maids of Mount Cisco, Paddy Taylor's Reel, The Bird in the Bush) appears to be a miscalculation of sorts. I'm also not sure that they fit well with the rest of the CD in any case, and so ultimately the traditional material on the CD cannot be recommended.
Finally, it would have been useful to have had some notes on the sources used for the tunes (e.g. was The Coolin taken from an early collection?), and an indication of exactly what instruments were used on each recording, though these may have been missing from the review copy. So overall an interesting listen, particularly for those interested in a Baroque treatment of Irish and Scottish music, but perhaps not recommended for those with a predilection for a more 'purist' approach to the music!
This is an original review for TIMR written by Adrian Scahill.
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