> Bagad de Lann-Bihoué [NH]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Bagad de Lann-Bihoué

Suite de Loudeac (a) Circus b) Servane c) Tan-Dezhi)
Big Deal
Dans Keff (featuring Solo Ensemble of Bombardes)
Fest Ar Bragou Bihan
Hanter Dro Evit Maelan
Fromveur (featuring Ensemble Batterie)
Suite Ecossaise
Marie A'r M'enez (Gavotte des Montagnes)
Souben Al Laez
Features various combinations of cornemuses (bagpipes), bombardes, batteries (drums), percussions and accordeon.
Recorded live at the Centre Culturel Oceanis de Ploemeur, Morbihan, Brittany on 15th May 2002.
Saint George/Sony France (SAN 5086512) [46.46]

This marvellous CD is, admittedly, not standard musicweb fare but I have been absolutely bowled over by it and have an overwhelming desire to share my enthusiasm for it and its creators, the Bagad de Lann-Bihoué. This stunning performance, captured in state of the art live sound, is a fitting tribute to the bagad (pipe band) in its fiftieth anniversary year. Unlike most Breton bagads, which are based around local communities, that of Lann-Bihoué is the pipe band of (and named after) the naval airbase in Lorient, southern Brittany (many highly talented musicians have been able to undertake their national service in this way!). Like the other bagads, however, it is a central stream of the musical lifeblood of France's Celtic outpost, appearing regularly at varied events, local, national and international (the excellent booklet - notes in French only though - documents its history, including numerous overseas visits). So why am I reviewing (and suggesting that you listen to) a pipe band? What makes it different from, say, a Scottish regimental pipe band (however good) you may well ask. The answer lies in both the music and the way in which it is played.

The bagad is a 20th-century creation that utilises Scottish pipes and drums alongside Breton bombardes (this has been described as a kind of rustic oboe or shawm), and creates a strong, resonant, and martial music for marching as well as for dancing. The music on this CD is either traditional melodies given striking arrangements by band members, or written by the band members themselves. It is highly rhythmic and the drums and percussion are some of the tightest, most razor-sharp I have ever heard, underpinning some magnificent melodies, often dark and intense but sometimes less severe and more celebratory. If you haven't heard a bombarde, I would say that it lends a distinctly medieval sound to the band, very much so on certain tracks (e.g. the third section of the Dances de Loudeac or the Dans Keff). Given the intensive and often highly innovative nature of its rhythmic drive, the music sounds, simultaneously, both ancient and modern.

After setting the scene with the opening pipe and drum barrage of Azerty, the Bagad de Lann-Bihoué launches into a powerful, extended folk dance suite based on tunes from the Loudeac area, perhaps the most memorable sequence on a disc jam-packed with great tunes. Big Deal comes on like a pipe-band version of the music from Ben Hur (if, of course, it had a Celtic setting). Dans Keff spotlights the bombardes very effectively and then the upbeat, suitably titled Fest Ar Bragou Bihan swings exuberantly into earshot. This mood is maintained for the following Hanter Dro Evit Maelan, before the title track ("Fromveur") puts the drum section centre stage for a spirited and virtuosic workout.

The Suite Ecossaise, the only non-Breton music on the CD, succeeds in highlighting the differences between Breton and British pipe music, the former being less static and more fluid but also more precise in the use of rhythm and percussion. An interesting piece and beautifully performed but suffering a little by comparison with the more energetic works framing it. It is followed by the perhaps the most British sounding of the remaining pieces, in its emphasis on the pipes (a piece from the Breton mountains), but still more energised than you would dare to expect. The briefer Souben Al Leaz closes the disc in a similar vein.

Audience applause has not been edited out but it is unintrusive and does not detract significantly from listening pleasure. Indeed, the presence of an audience no doubt contributed to the charged atmosphere and therefore the very high standard of performance that was forthcoming. As mentioned above, the French booklet notes are highly informative and quite comprehensible even to someone, like myself, with fairly basic translation skills. The booklet also includes a pictorial history of Bagad de Lann-Bihoué and the whole packagae does full justice to a band which really does deserve, on this evidence, much wider exposure, as does the style of music it champions. One thing that may strike you, as it did myself in Lorient a few weeks ago(at the Interceltiques Festival), is the contrast between the white naval uniforms (red pom-pom berets and all) of the bagad and the intense, often quite radical sounding music it purveys.

So, if you are craving a slightly different listening experience, and want to hear some interesting interpretations of Celtic folk music in a context not normally encountered you could hardly do better than invest in this forty five minutes (the quality totally outweighs the quantity or lack of it!) of sheer, intense brilliance. Superb.

Neil Horner

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