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White Meadow Records WMR2013CD

Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, is a piece of land joined to the Northumberland coast by a tidal causeway. St Aidan founded a monastery there as early as 634 AD and the monks of Lindisfarne produced one of the most beautiful surviving Christian manuscripts between 700 and 720. They obviously weren't Archers fans. In fact, they were devout pacifists, but this didn't stop them being the first recorded target of Viking raids on England in 793. The monks and the manuscript survived the Viking attack, but fled to Durham. The Lindisfarne Gospels now belong to the British Museum, but they visited County Durham in 2013 and this music was commissioned to mark the occasion.

Alistair Anderson, a Northumbrian traditionalist all his life and reviver of the English concertina in traditional music, wrote a suite of five complex pieces for this project and put together a band of notable musicians from Northumberland and thereabouts. Andy May plays Northumbrian smallpipes and whistles, Rachel Newton plays harp and there's a string trio provided by Sophy and Emily Ball and cellist Fiona Beyer. The harp opens this work, an instrument with sacred associations. In fact, I can think of angels depicted playing every instrument here, with the exception of the concertina: there's a job for someone.

All five of these pieces are descriptive, mainly in a pastoral or contemplative mood: not much to dance to, but plenty of beautiful music, mainly with an early medieval feel. The first piece focuses on St Cuthbert's involvement with Lindisfarne: he was a monk and later bishop of the priory there, before moving to Durham. The next piece is slightly jauntier and starts to weave elements of the Northumbrian environment and culture into the Lindisfarne tale. The sprightly slip-jig The Oystercatcher in this piece is followed by The Redshank and The Greenshank on the final track. The relatively modern Warp And Weft precedes the ancient tones of Aidan's Voyaging and the typically Anderson air Time And Tide. The suite finishes with a haunting slow air Eadfrith's Gift, referring to the monk thought to be mainly responsible for the Lindisfarne Gospels, leading into a swaggering slow reel which winds down into a slower air. Beautiful, imaginative and powerfully evocative, A Lindisfarne Gospel is a fine addition to Northumbrian music. Look out for opportunities to hear it performed live.

Alex Monaghan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 100 of The Living Tradition magazine.