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Doorla DOORLA005

Michael Rooney (from Scotstown, County Monaghan, now resident in Sligo) has proven himself as a traditional harper and music teacher, whether recording with June McCormack or now in the composition of full scale epic works such as The Macalla Suite. This is not his first big composition, but has brought him more acclaim in this field having been included in TG4’s Gradam Ceoil awards this year. Based on the 1916 centenary celebrations and premiered in Dublin’s RDS on Easter Saturday 2016 at the State Event for the Relatives of 1916, and then transferred to London’s Barbican and a sell-out Irish tour, The Macalla Suite as represented here was recorded in his home county at Monaghan Town’s Garage Theatre in October last, and reveals his ability to compose and score full scale epics that while symphonic in style contain an accessibility seldom found in this genre.

One of the reasons the piece works so well is because the orchestra itself instrumentally blends both classical and traditional instrumentation, which serves itself well to the tunes and their application within the context of a historical narrative. The other source of success is the skilful use of songs from the period including Padraig Pearce’s adaptation of Óró Sé Do Bheatha ‘Bhaile and The Foggy Dew as well as Douglas Hyde’s lyrics to Eiroimid Feasta Ta An Lae Geal Ag Teacht that maintain historical correctness, while the new instrumental compositions work as both semi-traditional and semi-classical pieces that are melodic, reflective and appropriate, serving their place in the overall work. Their accessibility and listenability make them highly complex yet powerfully attractive individually, and in time maybe some might end up in the session repertoire. Performance-wise, the playing is stirring and subdued by turn, revealing a tightly hewn rhythm and string section accompanied by masses of harps, flutes, whistles, accordions, concertinas, banjos and percussion – all sounding sweet and melodically fluent. The Macalla Suite speaks volumes for Michael Rooney’s musical integrity, as it does his compositional fluency, and is his finest epic work to date.

John O’Regan

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This album was reviewed in Issue 118 of The Living Tradition magazine.