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January 2005 Review: from Hi-Arts

Anúna, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

Friday 28 January 2005

FIONA MACKENZIE finds her senses seduced by the haunting Celtic music of Ireland’s Anúna


MIDNIGHT may seem to be an unusual starting time for a concert of Irish Choral Music but then ‘Anúna’ is not a ‘usual’ choir. Hailing from the shores of Ireland, Anúna was founded by the young Dublin composer Michael McGlynn in 1987 to explore and redevelop the music of the ancient Celts, which had been all but lost except for a handful of strange and beautiful fragments which has been a significant part of Ireland's rich and often turbulent history.

The haunting performances created by Anúna destroy all the barriers between those things spiritual and the sacred, the real and the unreal, putting them quite clearly at the forefront of the musical renaissance which is now coming from the Celtic lands.

First really brought to prominence by their performance of the ‘interval’ piece in the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest (which developed into the hugely successful Riverdance), their repertoire provides the audience with a stunning array of attacks on the senses.


The group incorporates an imaginative style of presentation using lighting and spatial effects as well as the music, which is in itself often impossibly beautiful. At times, singers appeared at the shoulders of the audience members, proceeding slowly to the stage creating an almost seductive musical tension.

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“We as an audience left the Concert Hall in a state of almost intoxication of the senses.”

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We were taken from the more light hearted treatments of items such as the Irish version of what here we may call ‘puirt a beul ‘or mouth music in ‘Dúlaman’ – a work song of the seaweed gatherers in Ireland, and their arrangement of the Scottish Gaelic port ‘Fionnghala’, through to the exquisite clear bell like tones of the soprano sections in ‘The Bluebird’.

It was also interesting to hear their heterophonic interpretation of the traditional Kilmore carols, ‘Jerusalem’, here very reminiscent of the Gaelic Psalm singing of the Scottish Western Isles. The Gaelic influence was clearly present in many of the items included in the whole programme.

The tone of the 15 strong group (8 men, 7 women) was the most consistently crystal clear and hauntingly perfect that I have ever heard in a choral group, and their level of empathy and understanding worked together to create what was possibly one of the most moving and evocative combination of choral voices I have ever heard.

Anúna incorporate some of the oldest surviving Celtic music in their programme and yet manage to deliver it in a way which suggests freshness and contemporary influences. To swing from bell like tones of the sopranos to the sort of thunderous lines delivered by the male chorus is no easy feat, and Anúna are masters of their trade. We can perhaps look forward to a similar style of group emerging for Scots Gaelic in the near future?

We as an audience left the Concert Hall in a state of almost intoxication of the senses. We can only hope that the feeling of well being, as Celts, lasted even after the (very late) visit to the Festival Club.

Fiona MacKenzie is the Mairi Mhor Gaelic Song Fellow.

© Fiona MacKenzie, 2005