O'Riada's Farewell

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4CC12 - CC12 - CC12CD O Riada's Farewell Sean O Riada

The Session Recordings - O'Riada's Farewell by Sean O'Riada

Seán O'Riada, O' Riada´s Farewell

Ó Riada's Farewell is collection of Irish tunes, a few composed by the blind harper Carolan (1670-1738), most of them traditional. Someone familiar with Irish music will recognize many of them, some under other titles than listed on the cover. "Mo Ghle Mear," for instance, is the tune used for the song "Spanish Lady" as recorded by Johnstons many years ago, and "AntSean Bhean Bhocht" is the tune Steeleye Span used for "Sam Hall". Some of the others will be familiar in themselves, like "Sí Bheag a's Sí Mhór," according to tradition the first tune Carolan composed, recorded by many, such as Fairport Convention.

Ó Riada stays away from the very fast jigs and reels and concentrates on the airs. He has not reworked the tunes, just arranged them for the harpsichord by adding chords and harmonies. The instrument itself gives certain limits. A harpsichord has its sound due to the construction of the instrument. It is almost impossible, even for an expert like Ó Riada, to vary the volume of the music. It is very much a question of "on or off"; however hard you hit the keyboard the music comes out at the same strength.

Dirty Linen Record Reviews Issue #67

Seán Ó Riada is one of the most important people in 20th Century Irish music. His achievements as a composer - including the film score for Mise Eire that brought traditional music to public consciousness for the first time - were surpassed only by his vision as an arranger of traditional melodies. It was Ó Riada who first took ensemble playing of Irish music out of the essentially "twenty players in unison with bass and drums behind them" format of the ceili bands and added soloing, harmonies, counter melody and other ideas he found in the world of classical music. None of the ensembles who have toured the world playing Irish music - not Planxty, the Bothy Band, Altan, Dervish or De Dannan, not to mention the Chieftains, who began as a direct result of his previous group Ceoloiri Chualann - would have been possible.

All of that said, I'm not sure that people who love Irish traditional music will care much for Ó Riada's Farewell. The album consists of Irish tunes played by Seán Ó Riada on an 18th Century harpsichord. The choice of instruments stems from Ó Riada's belief that the harpsichord was the closest instrument in sound to the ancient Irish wire-strung harp. It turns out he was largely wrong; most copies of historical brass-strung harps reveal that, while their timbre is similar to the harpsichord's, the overall tone, feel and sound is much more like those of neo-Irish harps strung with nylon or gut. More importantly, the harpsichord Ó Riada plays on the album is a very noisy one, and every note is accompanied by the clunk of the instrument's machinery, a sound that detracts from the album's musicality. The airs and dances are fine ones, and Ó Riada's playing is expressive, but the album will remain more of a curiosity than a treasure for traditional music enthusiasts.

Among his other legacies to Irish music, Seán Ó Riada left a son, Peadar Ó Riada. Like his father, the younger Ó Riada is a composer and a classically and traditionally trained musician, who lets his various musics interact in his visionary original compositions. Thus the first track blends tin whistle with what sound like African thumb pianos and the voices of children playing happily in the background, to create a melody that is at once Irish and global, traditional and original. The long piece "Omós don Sulán," similarly, is constructed to incorporate a fiddle playing both traditional and original melodic lines, with both sitar and the sound of flowing water for accompaniment. Much of the album is taken up with contemplative piano pieces, one of which also features a cello. In addition, two tracks of straight traditional music, one a set of slides and the other of briskly paced reels, confirm the younger Ó Riada's commitment to the tradition.

Although the instruments used are never listed in the booklet, I believe Ó Riada must play at least whistle, organ, piano, thumb pianos, synthesizers, sitar and melodeon. Two guest fiddlers, a cellist, and Cóir Cúil Aodha (the choir that Seán Ó Riada founded and that Peadar Ó Riada has directed since his father's death in 1971) put in appearances, filling out the sound of various pieces. The result is an album that cannot be classified as traditional music or as classical music, but one that is most assuredly Irish music, and one of which Seán Ó Riada would have been mightily proud. - Steve Winick (Philadelphia, PA)

See Musicians: Sean O'Riada

See Albums: Ceol na nUasal Ding Dong Mise Eire (I Am Ireland)

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