various artists,
Carolan's Gift: A Tribute
to the Legendary Irish Bard

(Maggie's Music, 2002)

Maggie's Music is a small label specializing in Celtic music, and this CD offers a fine sampling of many of their artists. All the tunes are by Turlough O'Carolan, the famed Irish harper who composed hundreds of melodies that blended Irish traditional music with the sound of his contemporaries, Bach and Vivaldi.

This CD contains 14 tracks, with the emphasis on Carolan's slower, more contemplative works. Although Carolan wrote "lively jigs," as stated on the back cover, there are, alas, few to be found here.

Sue Richards' Celtic harp is heard on four tracks, accompanied by Carolyn Surrick on viola da gamba, and by Bonnie Rideout's fiddle on two of them; Karen Ashbrook makes three appearances on hammered dulcimer and Irish flute, accompanied by guitar, piano, and viola da gamba; Ceoltoiri Celtic Ensemble (Celtic harp, hammered dulcimer and guitar) contributes three tracks, and multi-instrumentalist Robin Bullock is heard in two tune sets. Al Petteway plays a lovely "Sidh Beag, Sidh Mor" on solo guitar, and Maggie Sansone offers up a delicate "Bridget Cruise" on hammered dulcimer.

As you might expect from the instrumentation, this is primarily tea cosy music. It's beautiful, and it's played flawlessly, but, heard in such large doses, it can be a bit dull. The instrumentation is very delicate, and the tempo is taken so freely on many of the airs that there's only occasionally a rhythm to bear the listener along. At times it seems like a blend of new age and baroque, the "smooth jazz" of Celtic music. Every now and then you get a bit of a rollicking tempo to vary the sound, but too often the tempos are extremely slow, making for a sameness throughout the CD's 50 minutes.

Still, it's quite gorgeous, almost hypnotic at times, and the musicianship and sincerity of the talented players are never in doubt. It's a lovely album filled with tender music and well realized performances. I only wish that Carolan's more frolicsome side would have been revealed as well.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 18 August 2002

This album is beautiful and relaxing, filled with the music of Turlough O'Carolan performed by the wonderful musicians from the Maggie's Music label. The sound is vibrant and full, yet has a delicate quality. The arrangements bring out the best in the performers and the music itself.

With a variety of musicians playing a variety of instruments, the sound changes with each piece. Karen Ashbrook's dulcimer playing on "The Two William Davises/Kean O'Hara" is beautifully accentuated, while Robin Bullock's bouzouki skillfully brings an ancient feel to his tunes. Sue Richards provides a number of pieces on the harp. "Elizabeth McDermorr Rowe/Miss Noble" makes good use of cello to highlight the lighter tones of the harp. The Ceoltoiri Celtic Ensemble plays what they call "chamber folk" with harp and dulcimer featured on this album, although they also have a vocalist. Their music ranges from the energetic with "Constantine Maguire" to the stately with "Isabella Burke."

The dulcimer is well represented, with Maggie Sansone also contributing a tune on the instrument. Al Petteway plays beautiful fingerstyle guitar on one track, which has a more modern feel than many of the other pieces.

This is music of the highest quality played by a range of people who are incredibly talented and obviously love the music that they play. Although many fans of traditional Irish music will already be familiar with Turlough O'Carolan's work, this album collects fantastic versions of his tunes, all played in an authentic, ancient-sounding style. The music also has very classical overtones to it, making this quite different from the music many Celtic music buffs usually listen to.

The one complaint I have with the album is the sparseness of the liner notes. There is little information on the performers other than a list of their previous recordings and no information on the pieces that have been included. All of the tunes come from recordings available from Maggie's Music and this would have been a great opportunity to introduce us not only to the music, but also to the performers. Only the bare minimum of who is playing which instrument is included. A bit more information on O'Carolan would not have gone amiss either, as the inspiration for the entire album rates only a paragraph on the back cover.

Having said this, Carolan's Gift is indeed a gift -- a gift of compositions from O'Carolan to the musicians and the gift of beautifully played music from the musicians to the listener. The uniqueness of this collection makes it an interesting and worthwhile addition to the library of lovers of Celtic, ancient or classical music.

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 2 July 2005

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