(Celtic Heartbeat, 1993)
Anuna will be most recognisable as the a cappella group that performed in Riverdance. However, the group existed far before that and this album is a wonderful example of their skills. The main focus of the group is the exploration and preservation of medieval Irish music, which -- limited though it sounds -- is fairly broad. They have included several more recent songs, as well as compositions by group founder Michael McGlynn.
The majority of the pieces are a cappella and are sung in a variety of languages. Their ability is apparent in the harmonies and in their creation of melody and harmony using nothing but their voices. Much of the music evokes great cathedrals and choirs. Many of the pieces were written by members of the church or have religious themes.
Several pieces are a bit more lighthearted, including "Fionnghuala," which is unique on the album for a couple of reasons. First, it is a piece of traditional Scottish mouth music, not Irish at all. Second, it is the only piece on the album not arranged by McGlynn; it was arranged by the Bothy Band, an Irish group. The final tune is also very upbeat. "Si Do Mhaimeo I" features the entire group with bodhran.
A haunting rendition of "Silent O Moyle" is also included. The female solo is filled with the anguish of the swan-children forced to swim for 700 years with no hope of respite.
The short histories given for each song are fascinating and leave you wishing you knew more. Represented are songs that were banned by the church, an invocation of Mary's protection, a description of a Viking raid and a vision which came to a monk of his recently dead sister floating above an altar with St. Mary and Christ.
This is a very different take on Celtic music, and includes vast amounts of classical and (obviously) medieval music. But this is no fancy tenor belting out "Danny Boy." These are beautifully arranged, well-performed renditions of songs that may otherwise be lost.