The Celtic Songbook

A compilation of melodies from Ireland, Scotland and Wales featuring singers David Hobson, Nollaig Casey, Paul McMahon, Annalisa Kerrigan, Sarah Calderwood and Teddy Tahu Rhodes, with various ensembles
Classical, Folk
ABC Classics 481 1981
Reviewed by , December 1st, 2015

This CD is a compilation of traditional Celtic melodies sung by well-known artists and selected from recordings made by the ABC between 1996-2015. It is a feast, though it lacks variety in the recipes chosen, with almost all pieces being of the slow melancholic or nostalgic type. Some spicy humorous numbers or rollicking reels would have provided some nice contrasts.

Annalisa Kerrigan

Annalisa Kerrigan

I have always loved this repertoire and was struck again by the sheer beauty of the lilting melodies, and the heartfelt feelings of the texts. Convicts and early settlers brought these tunes to Australia and they strongly influenced Australian folk music and became part of our culture. Some beautiful arrangements are on this disc. For example, my favourite track would be Paul McMahon’s performance of Vaughan Williams’ stunning arrangement of the Scottish air Ca’ the Yowes which was recorded in 2006 with Cantillation under Antony Walker. Another arrangement by the same composer, Loch Lomond, has Timothy Reynolds singing with the Choir of Trinity College (Melbourne University) under Michael Leighton Jones.

David Hobson

David Hobson

All the singers are good, and the selection includes the folk singers Sarah Calderwood and Nollaig Casey. The renowned tenor David Hobson sings his own arrangements of The Mountains of Mourne and Ae Fond Kiss in a contemporary style (backed by guitar, bass, percussion etc ) and Jessica Well’s arrangement of The Last Rose of Summer using his more classical sound, with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. His diction is excellent, unlike that of soprano Annalisa Kerrigan whose pure light sound suits the haunting melancholy of As he Moved Through the Fair, arranged by Genevieve Lang (harpist) and Paul Jarman (tin whistle), and the nostalgia of Peggy Gordon, The Cliffs of Dooneen and Fhin an Bhata (The Boatman). It is hard to understand the texts despite the beauty of her voice, and as no texts are included in the basic CD notes, one is left not entirely satisfied. The harp accompaniments played by Mary Doumany are lovely. The latter 3 were recorded for her 2008 immensely successful album Ireland (Just ABC Classics). She certainly captures the essence of these songs and inspired me to seek out the poems on the internet.

Sarah Calderwood

Sarah Calderwood

Two tracks without vocalists are Chris Duncan (fiddle) accompanied on piano (Catherine Strutt) in Bovaglie’s Plaid and Genevieve Lacey (recorder) with James Crabb (accordion) in his arrangement of Mary Scott, the Flower of Yarrow. An interesting live recording from 1996 is also included: Nollaig Casey, the renowned Irish fiddler, sings A Stor Mo Chroi – My Heart’s Darling, with her husband Arty McGlynn on guitar, and I enjoyed hearing her authentic Irish accent and wonderful ornamentation as well as her soulful sound. Choral pieces on the disc include a wonderful rendition of the Welsh song, Suo Gan, performed by the Brandenburg Choir conducted by Paul Dyer with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. This is choral singing of the highest order.

Teddy Tahu Rhodes

Teddy Tahu Rhodes

So this is a CD that would appeal to many and would make a lovely Christmas gift. Listening to it in its entirety might leave one slightly melancholy – one certainly won’t be dancing, but nothing that a shot of good Irish whiskey wouldn’t fix.

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