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CIARA MCELHOLM - Amergin Fire 

CIARA MCELHOLM - Amergin Fire 
Copperplate COPP035 

This debut release from composer and multi-instrumentalist Ciara McElholm comprises original and newly arranged (“reimagined”) traditional pieces described as “new Irish music and song rooted in the early music of Ireland”. Orchestrally fashioned, with piano playing a significant part, it’s alluringly melodious Celtic music with some obvious soundtracking potential and features three powerfully resplendent choral, effectively operatic, compositions.

Ciara’s personal instrumental contribution is listed as fiddle, piano, concertina and whistles. Other players provide additional piano and fiddle, along with guitar, bouzouki, cello, synths, uilleann pipes, bodhrán and percussion. However, disappointingly, there are several uncredited contributors. Firstly the brass (oddly omitted given that the press release stresses Ciara’s zeal to reinstate it into the “pantheon of traditional instruments” having recognised its importance to the tradition “in earlier times”) and, secondly, the choir singing on the strikingly dramatic songs. As with the rather homespun nature of the graphic design work on the CD, this slightly diminishes the quality of the overall product viewed in the context of the excellence of the composition, recording and musicianship.

The seven instrumentals are inspired by Ireland’s ancient links with Scandinavia, Irish mythic legend (including the voyaging of pre-Christian mystic druid and bard Amergin), Brian Boru (subject of a lament), the tides of South West Donegal and personal experiences, including a planxty celebrating a lockdown wedding sans guests and a dreamscape meditation. All offer pleasing melodic motifs and ostinato figures initiated by duo interplay (piano and flute or fiddle, say) that then evolve to be explored and enriched through the layering of additional instrumentation and, overall, to realise a range of atmospheric and cinematic soundtrack qualities.

Then there are those standout songs. Reworkings of the grisly Icelandic Saga, Song Of The Valkyries, and the legendary and spiritually incantatory Song Of Amergin, precede a stirring parting piece written for an audio journey at Clontarf, Picking Cockles (arranged by Irish multi-instrumentalist, composer and conductor, Carmel Whelan), inspired by ancient Viking slave raiding and dedicated to children separated from their parents by war and immigration policy. Beautifully orchestrated, entrancing in their fine interplay of the several male and female voices and rich harmonies, these are all deeply captivating.

Kevin T. Ward


This review appeared in Issue 140 of The Living Tradition magazine