Irish Ghost Songs & Readings


CHINNÉIDE: Numinosity. An Aimsir Láithreach. Teorainn Leasa. Lios. Tairseach Toinne/Morning Raga. Oileán/Amhán Mhuinse. MEEHAN: The Solace of Artemis. Well. The Last Thing. Sister Trauma. The Old Neighborhood. At the Spring Equinox. RIDGE: The Destroyer. Under Song. CARR: Extracts from “Woman and Scarecrow.” “Phaedra Backwards,” “Indigo.” FRYE: Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep. RIDGE: It’s Strange About Stars. DOHERTY: Down By the Salley Gardens. The Graves of Arbour. The Ghost Song. CLARKE: The Old Woman. RÍORDÁN: Bagairt na Marbn / Marina Carr, Dairena ní Chinnéide, Carl Corcoran, Paula Meehan, narr; Síle Denvir, hp/voc/shruti box; Laetare Vocal Ens.; Róisin Blunnie, cond / Métier MSV 28599

From the liner notes by Róisín Blunnie:

From Ní Chinnéide’s opening words, Ghost Songs takes the listener through the earthly and the otherworldly, the liminal and the ethereal, and through encounters and vistas, real and imagined, in Ireland and beyond.

The album is built around nine choral pieces, by contemporary Irish composers Seán Doherty, Rhona Clarke, and Michael Holohan. Each piece is preceded by the poem on which it is based, and these are interspersed with thematically resonant readings by Paula Meehan, Dairena Ní Chinnéide, and Marina Carr. Carl Corcoran reads texts by poets unknown or no longer living, including W. B. Yeats (1865–1939) and Irish-American modernist Lola Ridge (1873–1941), while Dairena Ní Chinnéide lends her voice, and her dialect, to the words of fellow Irish language poet Seán Ó Ríordáin (1916–77).

Thus you know in advance a bit of what you’re going to hear, but the overall impact of the full concert—and that’s what this recording really is, a virtual concert and not “just” a CD—has both an unsettling and a calming effect on the listener. Most of the album consists of readings by most of the writers represented here; obviously, the dead Ríordán and William Butler Yeats are not on the record (or are they? bwah hah hah haaaahhh! They’re ghosts!)

Normally this is not the kind of recording I review because it’s much closer to folk music than classical or jazz, but the overall concept of the recording just struck my fancy so I thought I’d share it with you. My sole complaint is that the Laetare Ensemble is recorded at a bit of a distance from the microphones with too much ambience around them. Perhaps this was an attempt to add a “ghostly” sound, but it works against them because it muffles their diction. By contrast, the poet-narrators are recorded up close and personal, with not a bit of echo or reverb around their voices. Of course I couldn’t understand a word of the few readings in Celtic, e.g. Teorainn Leasa, but what the heck. It’s still an interesting album to listen to even if you, like me, have absolutely no interest or belief in ghost stories. The poetry is mostly interesting, the music of the songs is moving (sorry, I couldn’t make out 2/3 of the words), and the whole project is indeed interesting.

One final note. Among the poems read on this disc is the very famous one, “Do not stand by my grave and weep.” For decades the author of this poem was unknown, but it is now widely attributed to Mary Elisabeth Frye. Frye lived from 1905 to 2004, so she was 99 before anyone even thought of standing my her grave and weeping!

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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