Lost, then found

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC - SIOB­HÁN LONG

SEÁN Ó RI­ADA Port na bPú­caí Gael Linn

Com­pletists will savour many facets of Seán Ó Ri­ada’s mu­si­cal ge­nius in this sur­prise collection of pre­vi­ously un­re­leased ar­chive key­board record­ings.

So many clas­si­cal com­posers drew deep from the well of folk mu­sic (Dvorák and Beethoven, just for starters), and Ó Ri­ada pur­sued a sim­i­larly un­fet­tered path in his ap­proach to our tra­di­tional reper­toire.

Lis­ten­ing to these key­board record­ings (some of them de­li­ciously skele­tal) is akin to bur­row­ing deep be­neath the more com­monly held per­cep­tion of Ó Ri­ada: far from the tex­tured ar­range­ments of Ce­oltóirí Chualann. In par­tic­u­lar, the open­ing three tracks are taken from a per­for­mance in Trin­ity Col­lege in May 1971, just five months be­fore his un­timely death.

There’s an ele­giac qual­ity to Ó Ri­ada’s read­ing of An Chúil­fhoinn, which strikes a bal­ance be­tween ten­ta­tive and qui­etly au­thor­i­ta­tive, while the bare piano on the open­ing Do Bhí Bean Uasal re­veals the full po­ten­tial of the melody line, a song more usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with the ro­bust vo­cals of Seán Ó Sé.

The stand­out of this re­mark­able collection is the ti­tle tune, Port na bPú­caí (Tune of the Fairies), a slow air thought to have orig­i­nated on the Blas­ket Is­land of Inishvickil­laun (though some doubt has since been cast on its sup­pos­edly ro­man­tic ori­gins). Ó Ri­ada nav­i­gates a course in be­tween and un­der the mi­nor chords of the tune. It’s here that he ren­ders all clas­si­fi­ca­tions re­dun­dant: nei­ther tra­di­tional, nor clas­si­cal, the mu­sic is fil­tered to its purest form, thanks to the fresh­ness and moder­nity of his think­ing.

This and nine other tunes were recorded in March 1971 in UCD, in what is thought to have been Ó Ri­ada’s fi­nal pub­lic per­for­mance. The in­clu­sion of short pieces of in­ci­den­tal mu­sic recorded for a com­mem­o­ra­tive 1916 al­bum, with Ó Ri­ada at his beloved harp­si­chord, are less in­trigu­ing, pos­si­bly due to their brevity.

Still, Port na bPú­caí is a trea­sure trove: an un­veil­ing of a lesser-un­der­stood as­pect of this mu­si­cian, com­poser, ar­ranger and man on a mis­sion to re­claim our own mu­sic – and how he did, with a chutz­pah that was alien to the times. gael-linn.ie

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