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VARIOUS ARTISTS - I Am Of Ireland: Yeats In Song 

VARIOUS ARTISTS - I Am Of Ireland: Yeats In Song 
Merrow Records MR003 

Often considered Ireland’s greatest poet, W.B. Yeats wrote passionately and lyrically on a wide range of subjects from art and nature, ageing and death, unrequited love and love for his native Ireland. Little wonder, then, that a large number of his poems have been set to music over the years, the best-known being Down By The Salley Gardens and The Song Of Wandering Aengus.

This new project is the brainchild of life-long Yeats admirer Raymond Driver, who, incredibly, had never composed music before but now has settings of 100 Yeats poems under his belt, just 24 of these appearing on this magnificent 69-minute CD. The overall impression is rather like the folk equivalent of a classical lieder (say Schubert) recital, a programme of chansons or art-songs where each setting is economic and attractive on its own terms, disciplined yet free-flowing in inspiration. Unusually for such a recital, however, the settings deploy not just one solo singer with piano accompaniment but a wide variety of singers and voices, male and female, and accompaniments ranging from solo guitar, fiddle or uilleann pipes to small folk group to string ensemble. And the satisfyingly ‘non-bitty’ nature of the listening experience is down to the strong feeling of artistic unity and common sensibility that derives from its being ‘one poet, one composer’, the latter possessing the skill and judgement to gauge and access just the right kind of mood, voice and musical backdrop for each poem.

There’s simply no space here to do more than list some of the artists involved in this venture – there are some spellbinding vocal performances by Cathy Jordan, Jackie Oates, Christine Collister, Eleanor Shanley, and two new names to me, Fergal McAloon and Bríd O’Riordan, while the roster of crack instrumentalists includes Kevin Burke, Niall Hanna, Mick O’Brien, and three members of Lúnasa. Seamie O’Dowd and John Doyle naturally excel in both classes.

Raymond’s choice of individual poems is nigh impeccable, and the quality and execution of his Yeats settings truly inspired – at once creatively florid and commendably restrained yet always apposite to, and onwardly enhancing, the intrinsic Celtic ambience and lyrical ‘Irishness’ of the original verses. I Am Of Ireland is both a labour of love and a major artistic triumph; you’re unlikely to hear finer settings of this poet’s work.

David Kidman


This review appeared in Issue 143 of The Living Tradition magazine