Barry Douglas - Celtic Reflections (Chandos)
"I was very fortunate. From the age of three, I knew I wanted to be a musician," says pianist Barry Douglas. "And I don't know how that happened. Some Martian must have imprinted it onto my DNA or something. But I just knew I wanted to be a pianist. And so from the word go, that's all I did: practice and practice and practice."
All that practicing paid off for Irish pianist Barry Douglas in 1986, when he earned the Gold Medal at that year's Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition. As a teenager, he also took up conducting and in 1999 he formed Camerata Ireland, a chamber orchestra that highlights some of the top talent in his homeland. Every year, they take part in the Clandeboye Festival in Northern Ireland where Barry serves as artistic director. That's where he first met flutist Eimear McGeown, who joins Barry Douglas on a new recording of Irish airs titled Celtic Reflections.
"Most of them I've known since I was a teenager," Barry explains. "Things like 'Carrickfergus,' 'My Lagan Love,' 'Danny Boy,' of course, 'The Coulin.'"
Much of this music was published by the Linen Hall Library in Belfast, which back in 1792 organized the Belfast Harp Festival, where all the old Irish harpers came to play their music so that it could be notated and archived. "This incredible harp festival happened and Edward Bunting was commissioned to write everything down. So he wrote this incredible series of books. People like [early Irish harper Turlough] O'Carolan came. And I can't help thinking that without Bunting writing all these wonderful compositions and airs at that time would we have had the knowledge, the record, the documentary evidence of Irish traditional music to the same extent as we have today?
"They're written almost like Baroque airs, the way Edward Bunting has written them down," Barry continues. "Either they're close to what he has written or I've made them slightly more florid. But there are several numbers on the album from that period."
Irish flutist Eimear McGeown also makes two new contributions to Celtic Reflections. One is titled "The Mushroom Tree." This beautiful air was inspired by a mushroom-shaped tree that caught her eye as she was gazing out the window just before going on stage at Camerata Ireland's Clandeboye Festival a few years ago. She pulled out her phone and promptly recorded the lingering melody. The very next day she performed it at the festival.
Eimear composed another hauntingly beautiful piece that features her flute, with Barry at the piano. It's titled "Inis." "Inis means 'island'," Barry explains, "And there are a lot of places in Ireland with Inis. And it conjures up a childhood memory she had of being in the Aran Islands … and it's beautiful."
There are 18 Irish airs for you to enjoy on Celtic Reflections. As you listen, you'll probably pick out a few favorites. Barry Douglas has more than a few. "Well, I think I'm very fond of 'Carrickfergus.' And obviously what Eimear has done as well. Maybe 'My Lagan Love' and 'The Coulin.' It's very timeless and it's a beautiful melody. It gives me a feeling of a Baroque aria, almost like the Goldberg Variation theme. It's really quite unique."
That's the timeless beauty one finds on Celtic Reflections, a new collection of Irish airs with pianist Barry Douglas.