Anúna, Celtic Origins (Elevation, 2007)

The Irish choral group Anúna began their career over a decade ago, presenting Irish and Celtic folk and Medieval songs in a choral setting. On their new CD Celtic Origins, they perform highlights of their career live during a series of concerts at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland.

A glance at the song list shows that Anúna are well-versed in the contemporary shapers of the Irish musical tradition. For example, seminal rock bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span established a whole new way of looking at traditional songs, and the importance of these two bands is acknowledged by Anúna with the performance of "Our Wedding Day" (a variant of "She Moved Through the Fair") and the Christmas chant "Gaudete," respectively. The Bothy Band brought the attitude of rock fully to bear on Irish music, making some great recordings in the process, and their repertoire is represented here with the classic Gaelic tounge-twister "Fionnghuala." Tradtional Irish songs popularized by more current performers like Clannad, Altan, and Enya are included as well, along with a medley of two well-known standards from the English tradition, "Greensleeves" and "Scarborough Fair."

Michael McGlynn and John McGlynn serve as the directors for Anúna. Michael arranges the pieces and does some composing, while John wrote one song on the disc and is a featured vocalist on several tracks. The arrangements on Celtic Origins are generally straightforward for a four-part mixed chorus, and the performances are good but not spectacular. Anúna does get ambitious on a couple of the tracks, though. "Our Wedding Day" greatly expands on the fairly simplistic chord progression generally associated with that song. On the Latin chant "Sanctus," the band makes excellent use of throat-singing to give the song an eerie (and decidedly non-Irish) ambience.

Celtic Origins works well on the whole, although more for the choice of material than for the strength of the performances. I suppose that somebody more deeply rooted in Irish music than I am might criticize them for not taking more chances with less familiar material, but Anúna seem primarily intent on bringing traditional Celtic music to new audiences. In that regard, they've done a fairly good job.

A DVD of Celtic Origins is also available, and the performances have been broadcast on public television.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

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