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DragonVoices - The Giant Celtic Horns of Ancient Europe
John Kenny (Tintignac carnyx; Deskford carnyx; Loughnashade horn)
rec. 18-20 November 2015, University of Huddersfield Recording Studios
DELPHIAN DCD34183 [66:42]

Ice and Longboats: Ancient Music of Scandinavia
Åke and Jens Egevad; Ensemble Mare Balticum (Ute Goedecke, Per Mattson, Stefan Wikström) with Aino Lund Lavoipierre
rec. 5-8 September 2015, Oppmanna Parish Church, Sweden.
DELPHIAN DCD34181 [76:28]

Ever since hearing a BBC recording of the playing of two decorated trumpets found in Tutankhamun's burial chamber I have had an interest in the sound of ancient musical instruments. This has been reflected in a few reviews here: Music in the Age of the Pyramids, Marcel Peres's Contemplation and El agua y los arabes. Now these two Delphian discs breeze in. They are part of a five-disc series of which these are volumes 2 and 3. Volume 1 is Spellweaving - ancient music from the Highlands of Scotland (Delphian DCD34171). The other two discs, due out in 2017, will be The Edge of Time - Palaeolithic bone flutes from France and Germany and a final volume dedicated to Greek and Roman instruments including the aulos, tibia and water organ. The series exists under the auspices of EMAP (European Music Archaeology Project) and Huddersfield University. What these discs have in common is a strong dash of speculation and a grip on mystery associated with sounds that reach to the contemporary listener across many centuries.

The DragonVoices disc is occupied with sounds made by the lip-reed instruments that were part of the culture of the Celtic peoples of Europe. They made trumpets and great horns in various forms. The Scandinavian Lur — have a close look at something as prosaic as the wrapper for Lurpak butter — is another example from a parallel culture. Among the rare Celtic examples is the carnyx: "a two-metre-long bronze trumpet surmounted by a stylised animal head". One of these was excavated from a site at Deskford in Scotland, in 1816 and what is heard here is an early 1990s reconstruction. Add to this a modern facsimile of the Tintignac carnyx, discovered in southern France in 2004. To complete the array there's a freshly made copy of the Loughnashade horn from Ireland. I mentioned speculation earlier on because there are no scores or texts. Instead music archaeology has concerned itself with "the physical construction of these instruments … their likely playing techniques". What we hear is not claimed to be what was played then. John Kenny, who tackles all three instruments, can be seen playing these uncannily strange instruments in a series of magnificent colour illustrations in the CD booklet. Mr Kenny is the motive force behind this disc and his extensive scholarly notes run in detail across this well planned English-only booklet. He has specialised in performance on these instruments for a quarter century. The music is his, newly written, and where needful it explores the sounds of the carnices and horns in solo and through multi-tracking in duo and ensemble. Other feasible instruments are added for variety.

Going by his titles, John Kenny's compositions take as their subjects "Celtic mythical characters, … ancient ritual … and … real places in Ireland, Scotland and France". Liadain and Cuirithir with its lugubrious long bassy notes and squealing saxophone tones (also appearing in Tintignac Lament) contrasts with Forest Camp: all French horn notes (similar to Britten's Serenade) and deep rumbling didjeridu sounds. Dance of Herne recalls the squalls and creaks of whale-song. The pristine chime of the crotales alleviates the groans of the Tintignac quintet in DragonVoices. Cu Chulainn - a Tintignac solo - includes mysterious fanfaring that might be from some Cimmerian landscape created by Michael Moorcock or Robert E Howard. The squeezed and rapid squeals of Invocation are paralleled by the staccato chatter of The Hunt. Calanais derives from a piece written for Mr Kenny's visit to the Callanish Stones in Lewis. It overlays the long lyric tones of the Deskford trio with skylark song and wave sounds. Ocean Stone boasts long, slow-humming held notes while the fairy ringing chime of the crotales again puts in an appearance for Ships in the Night. Shamanic drums are used in Shaman 3 and Gaels and Gauls. Cailleachan uses the Deskford instrument with seed and pod shakers. Its fanfare might recall Mario Nascimbene's horn-call in the film The Vikings. Another external reference occurred to me in Mór-rióghain where bereft banshee calls bring to mind Robert Lamb's The Children of Lir in his original version with jazz band on the Saga-Psyche LP label. I shall not be surprised if Mr Kenny is not snapped up for future Hollywood sword and sorcery epics. Quite apart from his undoubted scholarship he has a communicative skill that will go a long way.

Ice and Longboats delves around Scandinavia’s pagan prehistory up to the Christian era. This is Volume 2 in the Delphian series. It features music improvised on Viking instruments, and notated songs and instrumental fragments from the region's early Christianity. The sounds are more diverse than on the DragonVoices album with a very wide variety of instruments: wooden lurs (trumpets), frame drums, bone flutes, hornpipe, animal horn, Viking lyres, vielle, medieval harp, symphony, tambourine, rebec, bells, bowed lyre, tromba marina and jew's harp. The singing voice is also used.

This disc is more varied than DragonVoices. In the Village makes fair weather in a dancingly repetitive way of a chilly flute and a rudimentary guitar-like sound. Mith hierthæ brendher - an instrumental - is alive with braying woodwind sounds. Drømde mik en drøm - shiveringly evocative of flute-playing on a desolate heath also appears in three other instrumental guises. Signals to the Aesir Gods screeches and squeals in brassy intimations of some distant slaughter. In the Village 2: evening is a lively but introspective harp dance. The harp accompanied by tambourine in a discreet dance conjures a world in miniature. Ramus virens olivarum sounds positively Provençal-medieval while Melody from Hultebro, using a deep drum and a high reedy instrument, is almost Arabian-Spanish. The chattering of a plucked instrument is full of life in The Warrior with his Lyre. Gethornslåt centres on a horn wail, tight and taut, pure and slightly sad. There's a tolling jew's harp in the bucolic Gaudet mater ecclesia. The rest of the disc is given over to vocal items, solo or ensemble, often in what sounds to be a cathedral acoustic. These tracks also include a variety of ancient instruments. Predominantly the sensation is of listening in to a religious community's devotions.

There you have it: two discs in an intriguing series that hints at the ancient world from which the originals of these instruments emerged so many centuries ago.

DragonVoices features new compositions while Ice and Longboats uses some original archive and museum sources. The experience they offer is not stultifyingly academic although both discs are resplendently documented in a lively manner. These perspectives on very early distant history speak to us through these discs and later instalments will be worth monitoring.

Rob Barnett
 
Track-Lists
DragonVoices - The Giant Celtic Horns of Ancient Europe
1. Liadain and Cuirithir (Loughnashade and Deskford duo)
2. Dance of Herne (Loughnashade duo)
3. Forest Camp (Loughnashade and Tintignac duo)
4. The Hunt (Loughnashade solo)
5. After the Hunt (Loughnashade trio)
6. Calanais (Deskford trio, with skylark and waves)
7. The Shaman (Tintignac solo)
8. Ships in the Night (Tintignac solo with crotales)
9. Shaman 2 (Conch solo)
10. Cu Chulainn (Tintignac solo): Cu' Chulainn (Tintignac solo)
11. Ocean Stone (Deskford solo)
12. Invocation (Loughnashade solo)
13. Shaman 3 (Shamanic drum)
14. Gaels and Gauls (Tintignac duo, Loughnashade duo, Shamanic drum)
15. Dragon Voices (Tintignac quintet with crotales)
16. Tintignac Lament (Tintignac solo)
17. Danse sacrale (Loughnashade solo)
18. Cailleachan (Deskford solo with seed and pod shakers)
19. Cave of Shells (Conch quartet)
20. Mór-rióghain
21. Loughnashade Lament (Loughnashade solo)
DELPHIAN DCD34183 [66:42]
 
Ice and Longboats: Ancient Music of Scandinavia
1 Drømde mik en drøm
2 Signals to the Aesir Gods
3 In the Village: musical pastimes
4 In the Village 2: evening
5 Mith hierthæ brendher
6 Sequentia: Lux illuxit
7 Cantio: Scribere proposui
8 Drømde mik en drøm (bells)
9 Ramus virens olivarum
10 Drømde mik en drøm (duet)
11 Drømde mik en drøm (harp)
12 Drømde mik en drøm (symphony)
13 Nobis est natus hodie – In natali Domini
14 Estampie ‘Ferro transecuit’
15 Estampie ‘Pax patrie’
16 Rondellus: Ad cantus laetitiae
17 Mith hierthæ brendher (instrumental)
18 Melody from Hultebro
19 The Warrior with his Lyre
20 Gethornslåt
21 Grímur á Miðalnesi
22 Jesus Christus nostra salus
23 Nobilis humilis
24 Gaudet mater ecclesia
25 Antiphona: Hostia grata Deo
26 Antiphona: Ferro transecuit
27 Improvisation on ‘Gaudet mater ecclesia’
28 Sancta Anna, moder Christ
29 Sequentia: Diem festum veneremur
DELPHIAN DCD34181 [76:28]

 

 




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