CD Review: Cór Thaobh a’ Leithid
Cór Thaobh a’ Leithid, called for a hill that divides the parish of Gaoth Dobhair from Cloich Cheannfhaola in North-West Donegal, is described as a traditional Gaelic choir. Formed by Doiminic Mac Giolla Bhríde, a young local sean-nós singer and musician, this first recording bears witness to the birth of an interesting musical project.
The choir’s members are drawn from this Gaeltacht region and are all recognised solo singers in their own right. It is a difficult endeavour to bring solo singers together in a choral situation and an equally challenging task to forge a distinctive voice for such a vocal assembly. This recording achieves that aim admirably, never completely subjecting the individuality of each voice to the desire for a complete sound.
Although it makes for occasional ragged endings and notes that some would question, an overarching desire to achieve tonal accuracy would have made this a weaker recording in my view. While admitting many influences, the sound produced belongs to itself with no one trend dominating. The vocal approach is squarely grounded in the clear, intelligible pronunciation of Gaelic texts, as befits a gathering of native and habitual speakers of Irish. This is a great advantage of the choir, one that they capitalise upon and that makes the songs a pleasure to listen to.
Most of the songs are also local with some interesting exceptions. The opening number, Peadar Ó Doirnín’s ‘Úrchnoc Chéin Mhic Cáinte’ superbly projects an exuberant, optimistic sound, reminiscent of some festival choirs on Alan Lomax’ Mediterranean recordings. This impression is strengthened by the addition of piano-accordion accompaniment – giving a French café style overlay that augments the southern, Latin feel. The accordion is also used on a number of other tracks, most notably on the final, ‘A Phaidí, a Ghrá,’ a Tory island song with a fine modal melody. This arrangement achieves pathos through marrying the sean-nós roots of the song to harmonies which highlight the poignancy of the lyrics. Other echoes include Vaughan Williams, Les Voix Bulgares and inevitably of course, Skara Brae. A Hebridean Gaelic song – Murchadh MacPharlain’s ‘Canan nan Gaidheal’ has been ably translated by Neilí Nic Giolla Bhríde, incidentally the director’s mother, as ‘Teangaidh na nGael.’
The CD rewards repeated listening, growing in appeal with each turn. Cór Chúil Aodha or Anúna this recording is not, managing to create a unique sound based on the contributions of a living community of singers. It’s an auspicious and rather daring beginning and a fitting tribute to the late Alan Boyd, a member who died in 2006. Gura fada, buan, ceolmhar, Cór Thaobh a’ Leithid.
Published on 1 July 2007
Lillis Ó Laoire retired from his post as professor of Irish at the University of Galway in 2023. He has published widely on song. His most recent book, a collection of essays written in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, edited with Philip Fogarty and Tiber Falzett, is 'Dhá Leagan Déag: Léargais Nua ar an Sean-nós' (Cló Iar-Chonnacht 2022).