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Celtic Christmas:
A Windham Hill Sampler

(Windham Hill, 1995)

Celtic Christmas is a sampler of some of the leading modern Celtic musicians performing traditional and contemporary pieces.

Phil Cunningham rocks on the whistle and Manus Lunny is fascinating on the bouzouki in "When the Snow Melts." The bounding, emphatic notes in "Solus (Light)" are the ideal accompaniment for Triona Ni Dhomhnaill's beautiful voice. She is a great singer with fantastic range and quality.

Ya'll know that "On a Cold Winter's Day/Christmas Eve" had to be my fave because it had Kevin Burke laying down some fiddling that sounds like an Appalachian front porch on a Saturday night. Michael O Domhnaill does an outstanding job accompanying him on the guitar. This is classic Irish music.

Although I had never heard any of these songs before, I found myself whistling along with the oboe and uilleann pipes in "The Winter's End." What a magnificent piece! It is powerfully moving and reaches you deep inside with something familiar -- or could it just be my heritage speaking from a forgotten generation? Regardless, this piece gets you involved.

I try to never be rough on flutists, but Cormac Breatnach deserves it for his performance in "Nollaig Na Mban." He needs to learn to lean away from the microphone when he blasts out those high notes, though. He hits a piercing blast early in the tune that will jolt you out of your seat and make you think about those cats in the cartoons that hang upside down from the ceiling when scared. I think I lost four fingernails on that note. The man has a gift with the flute and demonstrates a pulled note technique with extreme consistency. That takes skill and years to perfect. He also has a marvelous flutter note. It is a shame that he did not rerecord to eliminate that one jumpy note.

"Snow on High Ground" has a lullaby air. It is easy to image the snow peppering down when the piano echoes itself and the bass softly supports it with a slowly moving background. "Galician Carol" is a cheery tune that rotates the best of Irish instruments in the lead and foreground. There are exciting rhythm changeups and minor keys leading to a full-bodied movement. Try to pick out the uilleann pipes, bodhran, Galician pipes, bouzouki, barroque timpani, violin, harpsichord and tambourine. It is easy at first, but when they combine, it gets tricky. This is an outstanding tune with tremendous composition.

"We Follow a Star" begins with wind sounds and then a bass flute that is absolutely haunting. The underlying percussion makes this piece. I was so caught up in the percussion that I had to go back and listen again, forcing myself to focus on the melody. The percussion is mesmerizing to the point of trance. This is a stunning piece of music that will move you.

And there's more. What a collection! It might be Christmas music, but it is something that can be enjoyed year-round. It certainly was not what I expected. Do not be fooled by the title and think that you will be hearing carols by choirs or songs about reindeer and chestnuts. This is simply splendid music that you will always appreciate, regardless of the calendar.

by Alicia Karen Elkins

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