COMPOSERS: Various composers
ALBUM TITLE: Ice and Longboats
WORKS: Ancient Music of Scandinavia
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 34181
One excellent EU project has been the European Music Archaeology Project, from under whose umbrella these first three CDs from a set of five have now emerged. The project’s aim is to explore our common musical heritage by studying the sounds – and where possible, also the music – of the ancient past, with reconstruction of instruments playing a key part.
That said, the stimulus behind Spellweaving is a vast collection of notated scores: Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book 1797 provides a window on a musical culture stretching back through centuries of oral tradition, viz its setting of an evocation of an epic battle known to have been celebrated by bagpipers in 1491. Campbell’s book was created to save the heritage which looked like fading away after the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745, and it’s here brought to life in the sterling performances of Barnaby Brown, Clare Salaman, and Bill Taylor. The tracks are much longer than they need be, given the music’s repetitive simplicity, but the playing – discreetly ornamented, and sometimes laced with birdcalls and lapping waves – has warmth and integrity.
The reconstructed Viking Age instruments on Ice and Longboats include a bowed lyre, a bone flute, a goat horn and a trumpet, but these play a subservient role in a programme which is predominantly vocal; the 29 short tracks of this CD are a delight from start to finish. The singers’ timbre is pure-toned but characterful as they deliver a lovely array of medieval hymns and antiphons, sometimes backed by the tawny sound of a tromba marina.
John Kenny plays reconstructions of three extraordinary Celtic horns found in Scotland, France, and Italy, and dating back two millennia – Dragon Voices chronicles a remarkable instrumental exhumation. But the problem with this CD is that the music can only be based on surmise – and Kenny’s tricksy surmise gets on my nerves, with its avant-gardish squawks, squeaks and clucks. I would have far preferred a few simple scales, some loud, some soft – but that wouldn’t have made a CD.