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Private Label POR015

2013 will mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of Cór Cúil Aodha, Ireland’s most famous Irish-language choir. This all-male community choir hails from the small West Cork Gaeltacht area of Cúil Aodha, and spans an incredible range of age-groups (from 8 months to 70 years!) Never a more persuasive demonstration of the turning of life’s wheel…

The choir was founded by Seán Ó Riada, and since Seán’s death in 1971 has been run by his son Peadar, who’s probably best known to readers of The Living Tradition magazine through his membership of the group Triar (with Martin Hayes and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh). This is the choir’s first recording in 25 years. All of its repertoire is in Irish or Latin; this might readily provoke a listener reaction of turnoff on the grounds of potential linguistic (or liturgical) impenetrability, but such is the simplicity of execution, the gentle beauty of the sound the choir makes, that such worldly considerations appear virtually irrelevant in the scheme of things.

All selections are sung to a spare organ accompaniment (with a tolling or tinkling bell on some occasions). Of the disc’s 21 tracks, 19 have been newly composed by Peadar himself. A small handful of these are settings of words by the late poets Dónal Ó Liathain, Séamus Mór Ó Muimhneacháin and Siobhán Bean Uí Cheallaigh, while the rest set traditional texts. The performances are riveting, with a really powerful sense of atmosphere – for instance the setting of Psalm 139, which includes some telling contributions from solo singers. This forms part of the disc’s central sequence, which presents the pieces belonging to a mystical Mass that Peadar composed in 1991 in honour of Saint John Of The Cross. The Mass’s Introit, An Marbhnadh, springs from a low chant, and serves to settle the intellectual mind, while later sections develop themes from local traditional prayers.

There’s likely to be a bit of a jolt for listeners towards the end of the disc, with the distinctly familiar-sounding Adeste Fidelis ringing out, while the ensuing prayer seems a touch ragged in comparison with what’s gone before and the ambience suffers a touch in some of the earlier Mass sections by an abrupt clipping of track-endings. But these are minor matters when the disc’s presentation is so handsome. The accompanying booklet essay outlines the history of the choir and its achievements; also included are track-by-track background notes, with full texts provided (sadly not translations, although these are obtainable from Peadar’s website).

David Kidman


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This album was reviewed in Issue 95 of The Living Tradition magazine.