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Dublin based Noreen O’Donoghue is an influential player in the development of the use of the harp in Irish traditional music today. With past associations with Oisin, Bakerswell and Fisherstreet, her session experience extends beyond the traditional scene to work with Sinead O’Connor and Midge Ure.

Musically, this entirely unaccompanied and first solo recording probably represents her heart’s home. Over 13 tracks, she provides a series of jigs, reels, marches, hornpipes, airs and a waltz, seven alloyed into sets. Some is traditional; much comes from her enjoyment of recordings by other renowned Irish traditional players – fiddlers, concertina players and pipers especially. These include Mícheál Ó Raghaillaigh, Tony O’Connell and Andy Morrow, Tim Collins, and Paddy Glackin.

The material with known composers has a wide temporal range. Inevitably there is O’Carolan, the beautifully presented Miss McDermott-Roe. French Canadian fiddler Willy Ranguette’s The Joyous Waltz, first recorded in the 1930s,is played with an alluring musical box quality. Two pieces by The Dubliners’ fiddler John Sheahan include the jazzily inflected The Midnight Oil, deliberately fiendishly packed with accidentals showcasing Noreen’s technical prowess. There are also tunes by John Brady and Charlie Lennon.

Noreen’s harp sound is clear, bright and ringing with tones rich in treble and middle frequencies. Sensitivity, elegance and precision characterise the recording and well suit the melodic quality of her playing including the rhythmic control and intricate interplay between the two hands. The overall feel is mellow and relaxing but with sufficient dynamic range to be engaging.

However, the recording may appeal most to those already comfortably devoted to the harp in a traditional context, a likelihood possibly increased by the weakness in the quality of the cover photography and design. A more contemporary and styled approach aimed, perhaps, at representing the  characteristics of sound and feel mentioned above might have provided wider opportunities for stimulating interest in her very fine musicianship.

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 91 of The Living Tradition magazine.