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SEAN O RIADA - Seoda An Riadaigh: The Essential Collection (1931-1971)

SEAN O RIADA - Seoda An Riadaigh: The Essential Collection (1931-1971)
Gael Linn  ORIADACD06

That Sean O Riada has had a huge influence on Irish traditional music is beyond dispute, and these three CDs chart the course of his musical career up to his untimely death at the age of only 40 years. He came from a traditional music background in Co. Cork, but his early career was with Radio Eireann, leading to an inclination towards a more analytical view of Irish music. His 1959 film soundtrack Mise Eire, on the theme of the Easter Rebellion of 1916 (CD1) with its brilliant, if classically influenced version of Roisin Dubh was a revelation to anyone who heard it. I did this for the first time in 1964, when John Doonan played the EP to me. Very different to the McPeake Family's version of the same piece!

The orchestrated version of Irish music he produced was a revolutionary approach to what was, to the classical eye, a rather undisciplined genre. He certainly respected the music but sought to 'improve' it via his undoubted musical gifts. There was some discipline in the ceili dance band tradition, for practical reasons, but his establishment of the Ceoltoiri Chualann with orchestral 'arrangements' was a real innovation in such 'low' music, well seen in his Playboy Of The Western World film score (CD3), which is still exciting 50 years on. He understood the music well, and was able to analyse almost surgically the various regional styles of Ireland in his 1962 radio series Our Musical Heritage, recently repeated on RTE, and a valuable archive in itself (not included here). Such musical dissection was unknown at that time, and his application of this analysis to his protege Ceoltoiri Chualann inspired the Chieftains, whose subsequent influence has been and remains, colossal, of course. His influence is still huge, and even if such an approach is anathema to some, this was a very influential figure in Irish music.

The CDs cover all the above, as well as his other film scores such as Saoirse and other orchestral music, but his later years were spent in the Cork Gaeltacht around Ballyvourney, where he wrote film scores, and became involved in the Coolea Gaeltacht community. He even formed an Irish language religious choir, Cor Chuil Aodha, with a very interesting example on CD2, Ag Criost an Siol Cor.

The production and notes to these CDs are informative and excellent, in Irish and English, and Gael Linn, the producer of his original EP and LP records are to be complemented on such a splendid memorial to a very important musician.

Jim Bainbridge

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This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.