CD Reviews: Lorcán Mac Mathúna

CD Reviews: Lorcán Mac Mathúna

Rógaire DubhIn the short time that I have had Lorcán Mac Mathúna’s CD in my possession, my feelings towards it have already gone through a number of phases. As they may shift again, what follows may be more an update on a process...

 

Rógaire Dubh

In the short time that I have had Lorcán Mac Mathúna’s CD in my possession, my feelings towards it have already gone through a number of phases. As they may shift again, what follows may be more an update on a process than a summing-up. The jam is still bubbling in the pot and is not yet ready to set.

Two things leapt out at me on first hearing – that the emphasis is on the songs themselves and that the singer is taken with some of the big songs, of Munster as well as of Connemara. That those songs included some of my personal favourites – ‘An Clár Bog Déil’, ‘Cath Chéim an Fhia’, ‘Amhrán na Leabhar’ and the ever-strange ‘Tuireamh Mhic Finín Duibh’ – was an added attraction. That the first song was a catchily rhythmic one, ‘Na Táilliúirí’, showed that Mac Mathúna was not confined to the tragic note, which can become monotonous in even the best singer.
Following this with ‘Johnny Seoighe’ creates a startling but effective contrast. This song of the Famine period is addressed in bitter supplication to a Mister Joyce, reputedly a Relieving Officer. The language of vision and enchantment – ‘Más tú an réalt eolais…’ (‘If you are the guiding star…’) – that might ordinarily be addressed to a beloved or a spéir-bhean is drenched in acid and applied to an authority figure from whom nothing can be expected. Mac Mathúna rises fully to the challenge, delivering a gripping, full-voiced rendition. I am not sure that any other song quite reaches the same height and this may account for the mixed feelings with which I have found myself greeting some of the other songs on the CD.

Not having been present at the recording, I can only speculate as to the reason. It must be said that this is not one of those recordings in which all character is removed from the songs by a production (or a commercial imperative) that values only sweetness or that reduces the elasticity of sean-nós to a bland regularity that suits the accompanying band.

Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh’s fiddle or Jane Hughes’ cello do not impose themselves on the songs; instead, they pick up on the feeling of the song and work – often with sensitivity and imagination, sometimes eerily, occasionally with a little too much artiness – around the singing. Studio recordings of sean-nós sometimes lack the dimension of connectedness to an understanding audience that powers the singing in a more domestic setting. (And some singers manage better than others to convey the core of the song in a large-scale concert setting.) I can’t help feeling that, though the whole experience of making this CD was a happy and creative one, at some level Mac Mathúna was singing slightly below room temperature, as it were, or else adjusting a little too much – perhaps not even consciously – to his accompanists. There is fine singing throughout, but, somehow, ‘Amhrán na Leabhar’ doesn’t quite hit the pitch of anguish required, or some of the energy seems to leak from a song in the lower, quieter notes at the end of a verse.

I will be listening to this CD again, and perhaps changing my mind about this song or that, and I am certainly looking forward to hearing Lorcán MacMathúna again, singing with all the unwavering commitment of his best work.

Published on 1 January 2008

Barra Ó Séaghdha is a writer on cultural politics, literature and music.

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