Oisin Mac Diarmada,
Ar an Bhfidil (On the Fiddle):
Irish Fiddle Music from Sligo

(Ceol, 2002;
Green Linnet, 2004)

Paddy Ryan, in his brief introduction to this CD, notes that as a child (which was not all that long ago), Oisin Mac Diarmada displayed a "special talent and an eagerness to learn more." In this recording of mostly jigs and reels (with a few hornpipes, flings and airs thrown in for good measure), one can see that Mac Diarmada has indeed learned more and learned it well. He performs as part of Teada, a group that has received both critical and popular acclaim, with John Blake (guitar, flute), Sean McElwain (banjo, bouzouki), Tristen Rosenstock (bodhran) and Paul Finn (piano), some of whom accompany him on this disc. In his 20s, Mac Diarmada is already recognized as one of the most talented fiddlers in Ireland today as well as being a respected and sought-after teacher.

Mac Diarmada is an exceptional musician -- he is not only an extraordinarily talented instrumentalist, but he has a strong sense of the integrity of the songs he plays, so that his arrangements and combinations of traditional tunes learned from other fiddlers display a kind of intelligence and respect for the originals that are too often missing from what in other genres would be called "covers." He also is master of a wide range of modes, moving from a combination of "Mary Brennan's Favorite/The White Leaf" played "in their raw state" (that is, "the old way of playing") to very finished, sophisticated and contemporary arrangements that never lose a sense of musical tradition.

It is almost impossible to pick out highlights from this disc. The combination of the two reels "The Flannel Jacket/The Maid That Dare Not Tell," arranged for whistle and bodhran (ably provided by Tristan Ravenstock) is, as might be expected, an irrepressibly bouncy two-plus minutes. "Moneymusk/John-Joe Gannon's" introduces piano accompaniment by Seamus Quinn, a return, according to the notes, to a style of the 1920s that Mac Diarmada and Quinn carry off flawlessly. And, just to prove that it's not all bounce, Mac Diarmada provides us with "Bean a' Leanna," a soft air that he renders with just the right balance of feeling and astringency to avoid cloying sweetness without losing honest sentiment -- always a touchy line to walk.

There is not really to much to say about Ar an Bhfidil: for those familiar with Irish fiddle music, this is a collection by an extraordinary young fiddler who already has a huge reputation; for those not familiar, it is an unrepentantly lighthearted grouping presented with a degree of polish and virtuosity that need take second place to none. And if that's not recommendation enough, pay close attention: find it, buy it, listen to it.

- Rambles
written by Robert M. Tilendis
published 31 July 2004

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