Reviewed by Steven Whitehead
This is one of those releases that can genuinely be described as unique. Geoffrey Webber takes his Choir of Gonville and Caius Colleges, Cambridge, deep into the soundscapes of the ancient Celtic church, centred on the ministry and memory of Columba the Irish missionary who founded Iona en route to evangelising Scotland. Columba's disciples took his version of monasticism across to Inchcolm Abbey, the "Iona of the East" in the Firth of Forth and then on to the mainland of Europe. These silent footprints of musical activity - including evidence of early notation and also of stone carvings, manuscript illuminations, and documents of the early Church - have guided both vocal and instrumental approaches in the choir's work with scholar and piper Barnaby Brown, an exciting extended collaboration which was further informed by oral traditions from as far afield as Sardinia and the Outer Hebrides. There is, of course, more than a little deduction as opposed to definite evidence and all concerned with this project would concede the fact but even if they are guessing the conclusions are both plausible and worth hearing. We range from atmospheric instrumentals such as "River Erne Horn Duet", an improvisation between the triplepiper Barnaby Brown and medieval Irish horn of Simon O'Dwyer, through to Latin Plainchant with a Celtic flavour, including two versions of an alphabetic hymn, "Adiutor Laborantium", one lasting three minutes and the full version coming in at 25: a timing I had to check as it did not seem to take anywhere near that long. There is some breathtaking musicianship and singing on this album but we need to raise a caveat: this is a scholarly project and if you want jolly jigs and rollicking reels or the kind of instrumental conveyor belt music which passes for Celtic creativity in some Christian bookshop releases this is not an album for you. However, if you want to explore how the ancient Celtic Church may have worshipped this fascinating release is well worth investigating.
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