Les Witches / Siobhán Armstrong

Lord Gallaway's Delight: An Excellent Collection of Dances & Gaelic Laments

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The collection of Baroque, Renaissance, and folk instruments described on the cover of this release from France's Alpha label, one of an ongoing series of Irish music releases, sounds unusual. The violin and the large group of low plucked and bowed strings bespeak a conventional Baroque sonata group, but what of the Irish harp played by Siobhán Armstrong? The rest of the musicians are French and English, and as a whole the album is a kind of fusion: between classical and folk, Continental and Celtic. In fact there is some historical evidence that performances like these took place in Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries; several collections of Irish harp melodies like these were published, while music in the Italian Baroque style, via England, existed at the same time, and it is possible that the two were combined. The tunes, all instrumental despite the vocal-sounding titles of some of them, are of an Irish cast, with mournful modal melodies that don't vary the mood greatly over the album's 18 tracks. Yet the realization is nothing if not varied, with the mysterious sound of Armstrong's early Irish harp weaving its way around the more conventional accompaniment. It's quite lovely, and played at a gathering it's sure to generate questions as to just what in the world is going on. An offbeat and novel sound that is something more than purely speculative.

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