Máire Ní Chathasaigh & Chris Newman - "The Living Wood" - OBMCD07

Máire Ní Chathasaigh & Chris Newman - "The Carolan Albums" - OBMCD06

Maire's unique approach to the harp has resulted in a very distinctive style of playing, and of ornamentation in particular, which has influenced a generation of Irish harpers. Chris spent a long time in the British jazz scene and brought a virtuosity and balance of expression on acoustic guitar to the duo which he formed with Maire in 1988.

"The Living Wood" was originally released in '88 as the first showcase of the remarkable abilities of these two extremely fine and talented musicians, and it contains an eclectic mix of material from diverse sources. Traditional hornpipes, jigs and polkas, combined with mazurkas and even a Basque waltz, and all played brilliantly. Virtuosity, start to finish!

"The Living Wood" proved to be an inspired debut recording which also showed great promise for the future. Since then the duo have made several other excellent recordings, culminating in "The Carolan Album", which was originally issued as a two volume cassette before being combined to produce this superb CD.

Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738), the blind harper and composer, left a legacy of over two hundred tunes, but only in melody, hence the accompaniments are a matter of conjecture. Here Maire and Chris probably get as near to a definitive version of O'Carolan as is possible.

On this album we are treated to quintessential O'Carolan; "Colonel John Irwin" (or Planxty Irwin), "Fanny Power", "Hewlett", and probably his most famous, "The Princess Royal", now an English Morris standard. The names of his patrons for whom the pieces were composed feature with "George Brabazon", "Grace Nugent", "Mr O'Connor" and many more, and all performed with a flawless grace by Maire and Chris. Listen to "Si Bheag, Si Mhor" (unbelievably the man's first composition!), or "Maire Dhall", played in the style of traditional Irish song, and contrast these with the distinctly Italianate "Carolan's Concerto" which shows the influence of composers Corelli and Geminiani on his work and resulted in a quasi-Baroque feel to many of his tunes. There is sublime guitar on "Eleanor Plunkett", and the evocative "Bridget Cruise" is another in traditional Irish song style, and a beautiful composition for his first love.

A stunning virtuosity is demonstrated throughout by both Maire and Chris, quite breathtaking at times, and they exhibit a deep understanding of the music and its form which they combine with a simple elegance which is both enchanting and expressive. On "The Carolan Album" they have produced the definitive O'Carolan.


Mel Howley

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