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CD Review

Melodies of Ireland

The Lark in the Clear Air

  • Danny Boy; Silent O Moyle; The Breakdown Reel; Ag Criost an Siol (The Seed is Christ's); The Town I Loved So Well/Steal Away; Oft in the Stilly Night; The King of the Fairies; Úna Bhán (Fair-Haired Úna); The Gentle Maiden; An Cúileann (The Coulin); The Mason's Apron/The Piper's Tune; The Lark in the Clear Air; Fanny Power; Carolan's Concerto; My Mary of the Curling Hair; Down by the Salley Gardens; Báidín Fheilimidh (Felemy's Little Boat); The Quiet Land of Erin; The Bard of Armagh
Geraldine O'Grady, violin
Oonagh Keogh, violin
Margaret O'Sullivan, piano
Cala CACD0503 1996 DDD 59:16
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Geraldine O'Grady is described in the notes to this Cala Artists release as "Ireland's most celebrated violinist," and she is joined in several pieces in this calorie-rich collection by her daughter, violinist Oonagh Keogh. Both mother and daughter are violinists indeed, more at home keening a lament like "Ag Criost an Siol" than striking up dance tunes like "The Breakdown Reel." In fact, the traditional reels and jigs have become so closely associated with country fiddling, both here and abroad, that they no longer surrender their charms so completely to violinists, no matter how celebrated, as to fiddlers, no matter how insensate.

However enthnomusicological purists might judge it, this anthology of stylized "traditional" violin music provides as much opportunity as a recital of nineteenth century salon pieces might for Geraldine O'Grady to display her pure singing tone, sweetly sonorous double stopping, breathtaking portamento, and convincingly poetic way of arranging faded doilies. Nobody will mistake T. C. Kelly's arrangements of "The Mason's Apron" and "The Piper's Tune" for traditional fiddling – they're closer in spirit to the confections served up so elegantly by Stephane Grappelli and Yehudi Menuhin. Equally effective in its own highly idiomatic way is Oonagh Keogh's arrangement of "Carolan's Concerto," which the notes trace to a musical encounter between Carolan and Geminiani – although the story of that showdown has often been told with Vivaldi himself as Carolan's antagonist.

Neither an easily dismissed chrestomathy of cloying passages nor a field recording of authentic traditional Celtic music, O'Grady's recreation of musical poetry is not a disc simply to take off the shelf every March 17 to enjoy with a mug of green beer. It is as satisfying a recital of violin encores as many collections of minor works by Vieuxtemps, Sarasate, or even Kreisler. The recording is close and reverberant, balancing Margaret O'Sullivan's discreet but congenial accompaniments deftly with the two throbbing solo violins. Recommended to anyone who enjoys stylish performances of romantic encore pieces and who can sit through "Going My Way" and "The Bells of St. Mary's" without either blushing or turning green.

Copyright © 1996, Robert Maxham