Secret Garden,
(Philips UK, 2000)

Dreamcatcher was originally intended to be an introduction to Secret Garden's music for Asian audiences who hadn't had access to the group's first three recordings. The album proved such a success and so many non-Asian listeners wanted to hear it that eventually the Eurovision Song Contest-winning duo decided to release it all over the world. This was a great idea because the resulting compilation of the first three Secret Garden albums brings together some beautiful instrumental pieces as well as many of the duo's songs. (It also worked the other way as well, as the three albums compiled here are all now readily available in Asia.)

Secret Garden is Fionnuala Sherry on violin and composer Rolf Lovland on piano and keyboards. Their mix of new age and classical sounds with more traditional Irish and Norwegian elements has proved popular all around the world. Despite its new-age categorization, Secret Garden's music has a bit more of an edge to it and is in no way bland or sterile. The duo has an ability to give Lovland's beautiful compositions a full sound while maintaining the delicate, gentle feel common to new age music. Sherry often leads the pieces with her wonderfully expressive violin playing, while Lovland's piano playing provides a solid background.

Included on the album is the ethereal "Prayer," which features the vocals of Karen Matheson of Capercaillie and is worth the price of the disc on its own. The group Anuna is featured on two tracks: the Latin "In Our Tears" and the epic "Dawn of a New Century." Unfortunately this last track of the album is also my least favorite. Written for the Millennium ('cause the title didn't give that away!) it has spoken words read by John Kavanagh that are trite and cliche. The song would have been quite lovely without them, but they simply detract from the vocals and grandness of the piece. The other vocal pieces feature some beautiful female singers and evoke the appropriate visual images.

The instrumental pieces are varied and each has its own style and rhythm. This album never gets boring or repetitive.

The featured musicians include David Agnew on oboe and cor anglais, Davy Spillane on uilleann pipes and low whistle, Derek Bell on tiompan and Annbjorg Lien on Hardanger fiddle. Vocals were provided by a variety of singers as well. Gunnhild Tvinnereim, Nikki Matheson, the Irish National Chamber choir, Karen Matheson and Anuna all sing, plus Fionnuala Sherry provides a rare peek at her vocal talents. Although this album includes more vocal pieces than an average Secret Garden album, they provide a very pleasant contrast to the more low-key instrumental pieces.

Dreamcatcher brings together the best of the first three Secret Garden albums. It is a pleasant album to play on a relaxing afternoon with its gentleness and variety. This compilation is a treat to listen to. No matter what your opinion is of new age music, leave your assumptions behind. With Dreamcatcher, you will be pleasantly surprised.

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 17 September 2005

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