Reviewed on Tue 24 Mar, 2015
More than two centuries after it was published, Edward Bunting’s three-volume collection of Ancient Irish Music continues to exert a sirenic influence on Ireland’s musicians and composers. Assembled during the 1792 Belfast Harp Festival – a last hurrah for a tradition stretching into antiquity – Bunting’s miniature bardic transcriptions have been re-worked countless times since, but seldom with the idiomatic sensitivity, poetic acuity and playful brio of Philip Hammond’s 21 ‘modulations’ for piano. Remarkable as much for their technical variety, melodic elasticity, tonal range and dynamic contrasts as for their many becoming beauties and beguiling economy, they are exquisite re-imaginings of ancient airs and dances full of freshness and feeling. Michael McHale (like Hammond, born in Belfast) proves a nimble and nuanced advocate, balancing lilting lyricism (The Little and Great Mountain) and plangent stillness (Have You Seen My Valentine?) with songlike trilling in The Blackbird, Planxty McGuire’s hyperventilated jauntiness and bittersweet heartache of The Parting of Friends. A delight from start to finish.