The Boston Pops Orchestra,
The Celtic Album
(RCA, 1998)

For those whose musical tastes include both classical and Celtic, here is the perfect recording. The Celtic Album, featuring the Boston Pops Orchestra, provides both on every one of its 16 tracks.

I've had this CD for a few years, but somehow it became buried in the pile. I recently came across it again and discovered I had a perfect gem that went unheard for way too long.

As might be expected in any recording by the Boston Pops under the direction of Keith Lockhart, anything -- or anyone -- needed to bring the music alive is used. The opening tract gets the listener right into the mood with "Scotland the Brave" and the otherwordly sound of skirling pipes and drums beating a steady tattoo featuring the Boston Pipers Society.

Eileen Ivers, the nine-time All-Ireland Fiddle Champion, joins the Boston Pops for a beautiful rendition of the familiar theme from Riverdance. Uilleann piper Jerry Sullivan plays along in the next track with "O'Sullivan's March from Rob Roy," which is one of my favorite films. I always said Rob Roy had to be watched at least three times: once for the story, once for the scenery and once for the music. This track makes my third point. O'Sullivan and the Pops continue with music from the movies with the hauntingly beautiful theme from Braveheart.

Cherish the Ladies is heard in a medley of a slip jig and three reels: "Highway to Kilkenney/The Boys of Portoferry/The Pullet/Ashmoleen." This is authentic toe-tapping music straight out of an Irish pub session.

The keystone of the album -- at least for the more classically inclined -- is perhaps Felix Mendelssohn's "The Hebrides." Mendelssohn wrote this stirring piece during an 1829 visit to England. He was so impressed by the raw, natural beauty of the Scottish isles he was inspired to compose what has become one of his most popular pieces.

No recording of Irish music of this caliber would be complete without paying tribute to Ireland's most famous and prolific musician. Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738) was a blind itinerant harpist and bard who traveled around Ireland playing, singing and composing tunes for his many patrons in order to support himself. More than 200 tunes attributed to O'Carolan survive to this day. The Boston Pops tribute piece is a lively rendition of the "Loftus Jones" concerto with Ivers on the acoustic fiddle.

Among the other tracks heard on this amazing recording are "Magh Seola (The Level Plain)," "The Fair Day" from Sir Hamilton Harty's An Irish Symphony and the closer, "Itsbynne Reel."

Near the end of the CD are four tracks of Scottish dances, all composed by Malcolm Arnold, an English trumpet player. Arnold displays "the rhythmic elements of traditional dance tunes -- strathspeys, jigs and reels.

The Celtic Album is on the RCA label and was released in 1998. It was produced by Jay David Saks and is still available at certain retail outlets including Anyone who enjoys both Celtic and classical music will play this one over and over. Unlike me, they probably won't lose sight of it for a few years (although the joy of rediscovery was a nice experience).

review by
Bill Knapp

10 October 2009

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