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If you enjoyed the interview with the fascinating Barnaby Brown last issue, you’ll likely have been waiting expectantly for this disc, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint; it’s quite exceptional on every level. The Ireland of the sixth and seventh centuries was a crucible of early Christian faith and culture, with its monks (St Columba the best known) instrumental in spreading the light throughout the Celtic world and beyond. Brown and the choir of Caius College, Cambridge (providing vocals and percussion), in a research and performance partnership with Irish-musical-polymath Simon O’Dwyer (on medieval Irish horn along with undergraduate Malachy Frame who clearly has an interesting musical future ahead) bring to life seventh-century monastic life along with two ‘foci of influence’: tenth-century Celtic foundations in Switzerland, and the 10th-century world of Inchcolm Abbey in the Firth of Forth, Scotland.

The musical repertoire not being extant, the team has looked to prose, manuscript illumination and stone carving for inspiration along with composition and improvisation, leading to track listings like: ‘Altus prosator’, text attributed to a seventh-century Iona author. Music by Barnaby Brown, weaving Hebridean tradition with the Welsh ground ‘Koraldan’ and medieval sequences from Germany. (Brown’s and Webber’s inlay notes are extensive and enlightening).

An utterly compelling disc; I might single out the prayer Noli Pater as a particularly magical moment; young voices working at an extraordinarily high level of commitment and interpretation.

Catherine Groom Read the full review on Agora Classica


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Early Music Today, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing