Altramar Medieval Music Ensemble,
Celtic Wanderers: The Pilgrim's Road
(Dorian, 2001)

The Altramar Medieval Music Ensemble has been together since 1991. Celtic Wanderers: The Pilgrim's Road is the band's sixth Dorian CD and the second CD in a Medieval Celtic Trilogy the ensemble has planned. (The first CD in the trilogy is titled Crossroads of the Celts).

Anyone who enjoyed the sound of the monks of Santo Domingo (popularized in the mid-'90s on Chant) and is familiar with the music of Hildegard Von Bingen will truly treasure the artistry that Altramar infuses in this musical tapestry created from 15 tracks. According to the CD liner notes, Altramar "follows the trail of the peregrini, the wandering Irish monks and scholars who, in the early Middle Ages, saved a small corner of civilization."

The four members of the ensemble play several instruments that are medieval reconstructions. Jann Cosart plays the crwth (a bowed lyre) and the vielle (an ancestor of the violin). Angela Mariani has a very powerful voice and also plays the medieval Celtic harp, the cruit (a Celtic lyre) and percussion. Chris Smith contributes his talent on the cruit and the gittern (an ancestor of the guitar). David Stattelman showcases his vocal ability.

My favorite song on the CD is "Puella Christi." The liner notes state that "this tune imagines an Irish stone church, 900 years past, far out in the grey-green fields." I particularly like the vielle. Altramar's beautiful playing is rather mesmerizing in this piece.

Another short, but brilliant track combines Hildegard von Bingen's "O mirum admirandum" with "I Vespers: Antiphons for St. Kilian." The first part honors an Irish bishop who founded a monastery in Germany near Bingen. The Vespers antiphons of the second part is interesting in that the melodies did not survive medieval times intact. Altramar had to rely on some educated guesswork to reconstruct the music. They did a wonderful job.

The majority of the 15 tracks presented on the CD are rather short. In fact, ten selections are less than two and half minutes. The CD as a whole, however, lasts almost an hour thanks to the final track, "Samson dux fortissime" which clocks in at 23 minutes 27 seconds.

Celtic Wanderers: The Pilgrim's Road contains an excellent selection of medieval pieces. Altramar performs with a passion that must be heard to be appreciated. I look forward to their release of their third CD in the Medieval Celtic Trilogy.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 10 August 2001

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