The Curious Bards
harmonia mundi HMN 916105
Scottish & Irish airs, reels, jigs, dances and variations with compositions of Carolan
This minimally packaged CD seems to be the first of a new series from harmonia mundi entitled “Harmonia Nova”, designed to bring new artists to a wider audience – it is a mark of the trendy packaging that, until I looked into it, I had transposed the name of the CD with that of the performing group. The recording is devoted to the music of 18th-century Scotland and Ireland, and (with the naivete of youth) Alix Boivert opens his programme note with the extraordinary assertion that the music of eighteenth-century Scotland and Ireland is ‘practically forgotten’ and that it is the mission of the group ‘to bring to light a cultural legacy’. The hazards of bringing to light someone else’s cultural legacy are laid horribly bare in the vocal contributions by guest singer, Ilektra Platiopoulou, who – perhaps understandably – has little concept of any attempt at authentic pronunciation or even an appropriate style of vocal production.
Having said that, Boivert has gone to all the right 18th-century sources and he and his players have mastered to a remarkable degree traditional Scottish and Irish playing techniques, and have applied them very convincingly on their period instruments. As a reviewer, it is important just to wait around long enough and you learn that there is truly nothing new under the sun; for me, these well-intentioned performances recalled the work of the Baltimore Consort around twenty years ago. I think those fine players and advocates of the musical legacy of Scotland and Ireland, as well as more recent tireless exponents of precisely the repertoire represented here such as David McGuinness and his superb Concerto Caledonia, might take issue with the idea that this repertoire is ‘practically forgotten’, but the Curious Bards are undoubtedly making a valuable contribution to bringing this attractive music to a still wider audience. Just sit back and get in touch with the curious Celt within.
D. James Ross