Lord Gallaway’s Delight (CD review)

An Excellent Collection of Dances & Gaelic Laments. Les Witches, with guest Siobhan Armstrong. Alpha Productions 534.

Quoting from a very old music publication, the French ensemble Les Witches describes the present album as “An Excellent Choice of the most celebrated Irish tunes, the finest English Country Dances & the best Scotch Humours, with several additional Fancies and Divisions never before recorded!”

OK, you might say, what’s a group of French musicians doing playing traditional Irish, English, and Scottish music? I suppose you could say the music transcends the boundaries of place and time, and Les Witches do as good a job as any I’ve heard of bringing this kind of music to life. The group comprises five members:  Pascale Boquet, lute and guitar; Odile Edouard, violin; Freddy Eichelberger, harpsichord and cistre (a sort of ancient mandolin); Claire Michon, flutes; and Sylvie Moquet, viola da gamba. Joining Les Witches is guest Siobhan Armstrong on the Irish harp because, as they say, you cannot have Irish music without a harp. And what better an exponent of the Irish harp than Ms. Armstrong, the head of the Historical Harp Society of Ireland.

Still, this kind of music is a bit of an acquired taste. All of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth-century Irish, Scottish, and English instrumental tunes on the album appear tinged with melancholy, either a quality of the people who wrote them or a predilection of the musicians who chose to include them. In either case, it doesn’t change the eighteen tracks on the disc, which are delightful in their way but whose mood tends to sound slightly the same after a while. A little goes a long way? It helps, of course, that the players use historical instruments, which makes it all the more authentic and fun.

Anyhow, on the opening number, “She Rose and Leit Me In,” the six instruments enter one at a time, creating a surprisingly rich and complex texture. And so it goes.

Flutist Claire Michon tells us in a booklet note that “with traditional musicians we share the pleasures of variation, ornamentation and improvisation, so expect to hear a bit of each style. Expect mainly, though, to hear gentle, committed, expressive playing, be it in dances or Gaelic laments. The music is melodic, sometimes rhapsodic, lilting, lyrical, and haunting. Most of all, it’s lovely, played with plenty of sweet, loving care.

While in fairness, I could not single out a “best tune” in the bunch, I know I strongly enjoyed the first number above, plus “Mary O’Neill,” “On the Cold Ground,” “Mary Halfpenny” (which sounds faintly of tinkling wind chimes), “Siege of Limerick,” and the closing air “Da Mihi Manum” (a melody that will have you close to tears). Yet, for that matter, they’re all gems, which, as I say, take a little getting used to. Once you acquire the taste, however, it’s hard not to want more.

Les Witches concocted their brew in 2012, with sound that is every bit as fascinating as the music. Indeed, the sonics steal the show. The highs sparkle, the midrange glows with clarity, and the bass, what there is of it, shows commendable tautness. There is a fine separation of instruments and a quick transient response, too. Most important, the recording venue imparts a sweet, natural resonance to the occasion, making the performances warmly lifelike.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa