It may be a bit too early for Christmas, but if you’d like a little dose of heavenly soothing music with a touch of religious meditation, the Narada compilation of its more popular artists performing traditional Celtic tunes may be worth a spin. One of the nicest things about this compilation is that it showcases clear and often beautiful vocals as well as the usual instrumental pieces. As someone that tends to fall asleep to instrumental pieces filled with windpipes and oboe and whatnot, this is a welcome respite from the usual New Age folk classical clichés out there.
The ever listenable Connie Dover kicks off the show with her eerie, ethereal, and sublime musical interpretation of a line in a ninth century Gregorian chant. Setting the music to the line ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est (“where there is charity and love, there is God”), she gently repeats the line again and again in a hypnotic yet melodious manner that is pure rapture to the ears. The alto background vocal that makes a beautiful contrast to Dover’s crystal clear soprano is the only vocal enhancement in this stripped down elegant track. And for once, I don’t mind the tin-whistle.
Áine Minogue contributes two tracks here, the familiar Kyrie Eleison, An Ghlóir, An Phaidir – which is a blend of three different parts of the most popular Irish Mass, Ceol an Aifrinn – and Puer Natus. Ms Minogue performs the former as if she’s leading the choir of all choirs, while she tones down the fervor in the latter, performing Puer Natus in a prayerful meditative manner instead. Both tracks are supremely listenable. Aoife Ní Fhearraigh, the sister of Máire Brennan of Clannad, has a voice that is just as divine as her sister’s. Her Seacht Suáico na Maighdine Muire is one of my favorite tracks, fitting in anywhere from a Lord of the Rings soundtrack to a Clannad CD. Her Mo Ghrá Thú sounds a little too much like a Celtic tune cliché though.
The Groupe Vocal Jef Le Penven’s very listenable choral performance of Noelenn Brehed is the most obviously Christmas-like track of the CD – one can imagine this performance booming out of a church on Christmas Eve.
But nothing compares to my favorite track, Sheena Wellington’s take on the popular Gaelic hymn Taladh Chriosda, translated to English as The Christ Child’s Lullaby. I don’t know if any of the magic of the Gaelic version is lost in the translation, but I do know that Wellington’s powerful, clear, yet maternal delivery manages to convey delicate nuances of emotions – maternal pride, joy, awe, humility, and desperate protectiveness, which may just what Mary might have felt when she held the infant Jesus in her arms for the first time. This is one of the better performances of the hymn that I’ve heard, and it reels me in with the powerful emotions Wellington manages to evoke in her listeners.
Then there’s the instrumental thingies. The Anjali Quartet’s Be Thou My Splendor is pleasant, if clichéd. William Coulter’s Bí, a Íosa, im Chroí-se is a little more adventurous and hence a better.
The only weak spots are the Baltimore Consort’s Our Father, God Celestial, where Custer LaRue’s soprano may be a little too lustrous this time around as I can barely hear her, and Therese Schroeder-Sheker’s pretentious “WTF?” moment that is Rosa Mystica. As far as I know, the last track is basically some wailing bagpipes, some violins, and Ms Schroeder-Sheker occasionally murmuring something I can’t catch. Bizarrely enough, this one is one of the longest tracks on this CD, while the Baltimore Consort’s contribution is the longest, pushing close to the six minute mark.
Still, a fine CD. Atheists can treat this CD like the new Celtic folk thing, while more religious types can treat it as a tribute to everything divine and beautiful. Either way, because it soothes nerves, offers a moment’s peace in the mind, and even calms the raging blues in the soul, Celtic Spirit makes what little peace one could find every day seems like a precious gift to cherish.