on 27 November 2011
Tarik O'Regan's "Acallam na Senorach: an Irish Colloquy" is inspired by the 12th/13th century Irish medieval narrative "Acallam na Senorach", which roughly translates as "The Colloquy of the Ancients" or "Dialogue of the Elders". The narrative tells of the dialogue between St. Patrick and the warriors Cailte and Oisin, of the clan of Finn mac Cumaill. The texts are set from English, middle Irish and Latin sources for choir and instrumental accompaniment of guitar and bohdran.
O'Regan writes in a very mellifluous style, quite accessible, which sits gratefully on the singer's voices and listener's ear. That's actually part of the problem for me, at least, namely that the style stays pretty consistent throughout the work, almost too consistent. IMHO, there's isn't sufficient variety in emotional style between the different tales of the narrative, even in a simplistic tone-poem manner where one might expect the music telling of battles to become more chromatic or the music telling of romance to be more lyrical. One can't help escaping the general feeling of pleasant sameness throughout. O'Regan himself commented on the "evenness of the dialogue" in the liner notes. The same idea evidently extended to the musical setting.
The National Chamber Choir of Ireland, directed by Paul Hillier, is in very fine form, as are guitarist Stewart French and bohdran players Jim Higgins and Frank Torpey. There are a few movements where the musicians are on their own, without the chorus, including 3 "guitar interludes" and a "bohdran interlude". The latter comes between the two parts of the composition, and is evidently improvised, as stated in the booklet. Booklet notes are very good, as usual with harmonia mundi.