TARIK O’REGAN: Accalm na Senorach: an Irish Colloquy – Stewart French, guitar/ National Chamber Choir of Ireland/ Paul Hillier, director – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD 807486, 62:41 *****:
Threshold of Night marked O’Regan’s coming of age in terms of international recognition, garnering him two Grammy nominations. The 33-year-old Brit has established himself as one of the premier young composers today, with over 90 compositions and over 20 recordings. You can’t ask for much more than that at his age. His influences are legion, but most listeners will be pleased with his basically tonal, modal melodies and choral harmonies.
The National Chamber Choir of Ireland is that country’s foremost ensemble of its kind, and one can think of no one better equipped to lead it than Paul Hillier. Though I can’t say they surpass his Estonian ensembles they do sing very well, and impart a lot of passion and quite skilled vocalizing to this new piece.
Accalm na Senorach (The Colloquy of the Ancients) is Ireland’s most famous and perhaps longest narrative going back to the 12th century. It is a vast collection that includes the most important version of the Finian cycle (a body of prose and verse centering on the exploits of the mythical hero Fionn mac Cumhaill) where the warriors Oisín and Caílte mac Rónáin somehow—inexplicably—live long enough (400 years!) to encounter St. Patrick, to whom, and to his delight, as he is told by angels this is supposed to happen, hears the exploits and tales of these two men. It is a fine example of ancient literature that not only supports the necessity and truthfulness of a people’s embracing of Christianity, but at the same time not disparaging the pagan past of the people, and having a great saint express honor and admiration toward them.
In this reduction there are only a few tales related, the chorus covering all parts, while a sketched outline of the whole is maintained. A guitar is used to represent Cas Corach, the musician of the underworld, and the integrity of the story in marvelously scattered among chorus and guitar. This was an easy hour to spend, and I was engrossed the entire time, spending much of it enjoying Harmonia mundi’s usual high production values and excellent booklet. The surround sound is well-nigh perfect. Enthusiastically recommended!
A 10-year anniversary of Esperanza Spalding’s Radio Music Society gets a welcome vinyl upgrade.