CD Review: L'air du Temps

Friday, January 23, 2015 - 7:30pm

Composer DONAL MACERLAINE shares his reflections on the latest release from Béal Music, with David Bremner on pipe organ and Mark Redmond on uilleann pipes

The recent release of L'air du Temps is based on the relationship between the slow Irish air as heard on uilleann pipes and the French organ repertoire of the Baroque period. Although there may not be much historical overlap, there exist textural elements which are common to both instruments. The most important features of the respective bodies of repertoire that are chosen are rhythmic freedom and expression through ornamentation. It is a clever technique of curating that allows the music to remain emotionally appealing rather than becoming intellectually demanding. Hence, each instrument is afforded the space to breathe and express rather than having to accommodate its counterpart.

The beauty of their approach is revealed in this admission from the liner notes: “Where historical evidence is patchy, Bremner has composed new pieces that fabricate links that may or may not have actually existed.” Although this may come across like a position worthy of J.L. Borges, its bold honesty and transparency is refreshing and can be felt through the album as a whole. What's important for me as a listener is that the historical context, or the intellectual idea is secondary to the actual production of music resulting in what Bremner has described as “speculative musicology”. Hence, the music is an “atmospheric re-imagining of Eighteenth-Century Ireland and France”. Many collaborations that aim to bring together disparate musical elements have common pitfalls, the primary one being that the 'crossover' really is only that by name and lacks any genuine crossing-over. I'm glad to say that this one successfully avoids these. There is a clarity of intention throughout and an insightful sensitivity on the part of both players to each other and his respective repertoire and background. At times the two instruments are boldly contrasted in an unapologetic and indeed mischievous way (Bremner's chordal accompaniment through the slow air of Eanach Dhúin, Couperin's Kyrie en Taille) – but more often blend with great sensitivity and subtlety by both players (Amhrán na Leabhar). As the album progresses the territories are blurred further and the interaction becomes more brave. There is born from this a lovely quality of mysteriousness that is reflected in the acoustic of Christ Church. The boldness of the idea is carefully balanced with a great subtlety on the part of both players, but there is also no shortage of surprises and a good degree of originality in the methods of arranging, such as Variations upon 'the usual reason'. This is particularly apparent in the glassy, metallic and spectral textures of the album's stand-out piece, Ungettable, a piece inspired by fractal geometry.

Donal Mac Erlaine is a musicologist, guitarist, and an active member of the Association of Irish Composers.
'L'air du Temps' is available from Tower Records, from Christ Church, Dublin, and online at

Main photo (at top): CD Cover by Clare Lynch