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Tarik O'Regan Acallam na Senórach / An Irish Colloquy (National Chamber Choir of Ireland; guitar: Stewart French; Paul Hillier) Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Demonstrates O'Regan's natural feel for the voice, and his strong rhythms.

Charlotte Gardner 2011

Young composer Tarik O'Regan's star is now rising at such a velocity that to describe him as "up and coming" feels decidedly passé. His compositional style, a captivating extension of the English choral tradition, coloured by American minimalism and set within a largely tonal and modal harmonic language, has the quality of being both accessible to the masses and complex enough for the cognoscenti. Amongst his achievements and commissions to date are two British Composer Awards for Sainte and Threshold of Night, two Grammy nominations for the latter disc, and a 2010 Proms commission, Latent Manifest. November 2011 will see the première of his first opera at Covent Garden's Linbury Studio Theatre, Heart of Darkness, based on Joseph Conrad's novel.

O'Regan's major new choral work, Acallam na Senórach / An Irish Colloquy is a setting of one of the longest-surviving works of medieval literature. Roughly translated as "Dialogue of the Elders", its narrative follows two legendary Celtic heroes, Caílte and Oisín, as they travel around Ireland with Saint Patrick telling him ancient stories. O'Regan's beautifully conceived and striking work presents six of these short stories over the course of 60 minutes. His forces are comparatively small – a 16-strong choir singing in English and Middle Irish, a solo guitar, and two bodhráin (traditional Irish frame drum) parts. However, the resultant sound is rich indeed. Sometimes exhilarating, always atmospheric, the work demonstrates O'Regan's natural feel for the voice, his deftly multi-textured part-writing, and his strong rhythms.

While there's a healthy dose of the Celtic about it, much of the music's strong sense of antiquity comes from the Arab and Persian-influenced writing for guitar, beguilingly interpreted by Stewart French, which alludes to medieval Ireland's sporadic contact with North Africa and the Near East through trade and piracy. The singing itself is as spot on as you would expect from the National Chamber Choir of Ireland, who were responsible for commissioning the work in the first place. Aside from the sheer quality of their overall sound, there's a lovely sense of intimacy and wonder-filled narration. All told, this is yet another beautiful Tarik O'Regan disc for Harmonia Mundi.

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