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ROGER DAVIES - Songs In Plain English

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Cridhe Gu Cridhe
Gaelic Liturgy Group GLG001

The Gaelic Liturgy Group was established in the RC Diocese of Argyll & The Isles to provide tuition in the singing of traditional and modern Gaelic hymns, to make high quality recordings of these hymns, and to encourage increased use of this material. Many of these hymns were written by noted Gaelic poets Father Allan MacDonald and Donald John MacDonald, and a number were set to music by Ishabel T. MacDonald.

This disc, subtitled “Spiritual Songs from the Southern Isles of the Outer Hebrides”, is the first of a projected series, and draws on a selection of hymns from the 1986 collection of Gaelic sacred music Seinnibh Dhan Tighearna; these are complemented by three more recent hymns composed by Alasdair Codona (who takes a lead role in the disc’s performances of those items). The basic generic description of the musical fare on this CD may betoken inaccessible austerity, but the reality is a disc of gentle, uplifting music that’s anything but austere.

Aside from the first item on the disc, beautifully performed a cappella by all four singers in unison, these are small-scale (not choral) settings, principally employing the singers (Gillebride MacMillan, Mary MacMillan, Seumas Campbell and Alasdair Cordona) as individuals and – on over half of the 11 items – a modicum of instrumental accompaniment (piano, violin, guitar, occasionally clarsach and whistle or a pipe drone.)

Musicians involved are Mhairi Hall, Deirdre Morrison, Rachel Hair and Fred Morrison. The three items sung a cappella by a soloist (ranging from the supplication Do Làmh A Chriosda to an almost sing-song Gaelic setting of Ave Maris Stella) are especially persuasive, and there’s quite a contrast in timbre and attack between the voices of Gillebride and Seumas. The only selection that doesn’t do much for me is the recitation/litany Cobhair Nan Deòraidh.

The recording is bright and immediate, with plenty of definition, and the accompanying booklet contains full texts and translations, as well as observations on the hymns by Ishabel and Alasdair themselves.

David Kidman

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This album was reviewed in Issue 93 of The Living Tradition magazine.