CD Reviews: ConTempo Quartet, Máirtín O’Connor, Garry O’Briain, Cathal Hayden – Spiccato Junction

Spiccato JunctionGalway Ensemble in Residence GER-CD-002Máirtín O’Connor and Cathal Hayden have been two of the most dynamic performers of Irish traditional music over the past few years, and on this sparkling CD they collaborate with the...

Spiccato Junction
Galway Ensemble in Residence GER-CD-002

Máirtín O’Connor and Cathal Hayden have been two of the most dynamic performers of Irish traditional music over the past few years, and on this sparkling CD they collaborate with the ConTempo string quartet, who although originally from Romania, have been Galway’s ensemble-in-residence since 2003. Garry O’Briain provides accompaniments, string arrangements, and the slow tango ‘Elusion’, but the main compositional voice here is O’Connor’s, maintaining the creative output began on his album Chatterbox. These tunes are often expansive with byzantine twists and turns, and always push against the conventions of the tradition, as if in an attempt to accommodate his ferocious technique. Two of the sets here are re-workings of previously-released compositions, the reel-based yet free-form ‘Rain of Light’, which gives ample scope for Hayden’s American-tinged fiddle improvisations, and the jig set ‘The Wind in the Woods’, a modern-day continuation of Carolan’s fusing of the Baroque and the traditional.

In fact, this is one of a number of encounters that characterise this CD – encounters between traditional and classical music, between Ireland and Romania (and Eastern Europe), and the ubiquitous encounter between the traditional and the innovative. The blending of the Baroque and the traditional is perhaps the predominant theme, represented by the delightful pairing of a Bach Gavotte and ‘The Bucks’, the more unusual combination of Locatelli with one of O’Connor’s own polkas (which again has an early American jazz character), and Carolan’s own composition ‘Mrs Crofton’. The emphasis on the Baroque is interesting, as it would be outside a string quartet’s typical repertoire, but probably stems from the closer affinities Irish traditional music has with that period, as opposed to the classical or romantic repertoire. This Italianate flavour seems to have seeped into some of the other sets, and the dizzying sequential figurations of ‘Borris O’Kane’, although inspired by Russian music, also surely borrows from this earlier period.

The music is shared fairly equally among the players on these tracks, but the quartet really shine in the Romanian repertoire. This is especially the case in the ‘Câluşul’, one of the most famous dance tunes of the area, and the playing is equally fiery in the rhythmically complex ‘Geampora’. There is less collaboration between the musicians in this repertoire, and the only attempt at fusing the two styles is the opening ‘Spiccato Junction’, a whirling flurry of reel and hora. But overall this is an invigorating and exciting CD, the appeal of the music showing how successful such musical alliances can be with the right chemistry between the players.

Published on 1 November 2007

Adrian Scahill is a lecturer in traditional music at Maynooth University.

Sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to receive our latest news, reviews and articles.

To add a listing see here. For advertising visit this link.