With the RTE Concert Orchestra
(independent, 2013)

There's a scene in Darby O'Gill & the Little People where a lone fiddler plays for a host of leprechauns in order to escape from their lair. Ignore the fact that his fiddling bears no relationship to the music you hear -- focus instead on the fact that you see one fiddler, but you hear a full symphony.

It's disconcerting, and it ruins an otherwise fantastic scene. The beautiful sound of the violin is lost in a sea of over-arranged orchestration.

That, my friends, is what I imagine when I hear of a symphonic recording of any good Irish band. The root of the music, I fear, will be buried in a welter of instruments.

Not so with Lunasa, which here performs with the RTE Concert Orchestra. With a delicacy I could not have predicted, the boys in the band -- Kevin Crawford on D flute and whistles, Trevor Hutchinson on double bass, Ed Boyd on guitar, Sean Smyth on fiddle and low whistle, and Cillian Vallely on uilleann pipes and low whistle -- soar above the symphonic sound, keeping the heart of these Irish tunes at the forefront at all times.

Behind them, the orchestra fills in the gaps with a solid foundation, adding accents and ornaments to the music that add a rich and lively feel to the whole. The brass section in particular is pretty thrilling to hear, I suppose because brass is so rarely employed in Irish music.

Kudos to Niall Vallely (Cillian's brother), who arranged the music for this recording and who, according to the liner, was "the spark that lit this fire." One expects a talented performance from Lunasa, which has been making music together for more than 15 years. More exciting -- to me, at least -- is something like this, which is so very different from the norm.

The music here remains true to a long tradition, but it does something fairly new with it, and extremely well. The RTE Orchestra -- itself with more than six decades of musical legacy to live up to -- is a perfect counterpoint to Lunasa's powerful presence. Well done, all around!

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music review by
Tom Knapp

11 May 2013

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