HANZ ARAKI & KATHRYN CLAIRE – A Winter Solstice Celebration (The Celtic Conspiracy CELCON001)

A Winter Solstice CelebrationHaving recently reviewed (and very much enjoyed) the last in a series of CDs of largely traditional music from Hanz Araki and Kathryn Claire, I’m delighted to have received copies of the other three CDs in the series for review. I’m beginning with A Winter Solstice Celebration, not only because it’s the first in the series, but also because it’s a very appropriate choice for the first week in December. Hanz contributes vocals and flute, Kathryn contributes vocals, guitar and fiddle, and they’re ably supported by Cary Novotny (guitar), Joe Trump (percussion), Suzanne Taylor (piano) and Finn Mac Ginty (spoken word).

  1. The first track is a seasonal poem read by Finn Mac Ginty: ‘I Heard a Bird Sing’ by the American writer and illustrator Oliver Herford (1863–1935). It’s a brief spark of optimism that we can all do with in this darkest of Decembers (in fact, I may borrow it myself for a couple of sets I’m doing this month). And then, on with the music.
  2. ‘Jeanette Isabella’ / ‘The Sussex Carol’ is an instrumental pairing of a 17th century carol from Provence – ‘Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella’ – and the (probably more familiar) carol collected in Sussex by Ralph Vaughan Williams. It’s a classically simple but effective arrangement, with fiddle, then fiddle and flute harmonizing over restrained piano.
  3. The next track features fine harmony vocals from Hanz and Kathryn on ‘Seven Joys Of Mary’ in tandem with the jig ‘Copper(s) And Brass’. This lively set also benefits from some tasteful percussion.
  4. Though the sleeve on the copy I have credits all the tracks (except the poems at the beginning and the end, presumably) as “ arr. Hanz Araki and Kathryn Claire“, ‘Remember O Thou Man’ is usually credited to Thomas Ravenscroft, having been published in his Melismata, published in 1611. That said, its structure is very similar to that of many folk songs (‘Davy Lowston’, ‘Sam Hall’, ‘Tallow Candles’ et al.)
  5. Hanz’s leisurely flute rendition of the reel ‘Christmas Eve’ (a.k.a. ‘Tommy Coen’s’) morphs into something altogether more up-tempo when Kathryn’s fiddle kicks in.
  6. ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ / ‘Drops Of Brandy’ / ‘Three Sea Captains’: the carol ‘In Dulci Jubilo’ is very well known from Mike Oldfield’s instrumental version from 1976, but has been used many times by many composers (including Bach and Buxtehude) since the 15th century, if not earlier. Here it’s taken at a statelier pace, but then the pace picks up with the slip jig ‘Drops Of Brandy’ and the jig ‘The Three Sea Captains’, normally encountered slightly slower as a set dance. But this works very nicely, too. Oddly enough, it probably has nothing to do with three ships sailing by on Christmas Day in the morning: it seems probable that it gets its name from the victory of the fleets of Britain, France, and Russia at the battle of Navarino.
  7. ‘Coventry Carol’ is sung unaccompanied with multi-layered harmonies, giving extra force to the major third resolution so characteristic of the tune traditionally used with the carol.
  8. ‘Pat-A-Pan’ is an English version of a carol written by Bernard de La Monnoye in Burgundian dialect and published in 1720. Kathryn takes lead vocal on this and does a fine job. Probably my favourite track.
  9. Next comes a well-played pair of well-known jigs: ‘Apples In Winter’ / ‘Frost Is All Over’
  10. Hanz takes the main vocal line on the ‘Wexford Carol’, and very nicely he does it too, while Kathryn’s harmony is perfectly judged.
  11. ‘Ring Out, Wild Bells’ is an excerpt from Tennyson’s poem from the elegiac In Memoriam read by Finn Mac Ginty. I suspect that most of us will welcome the dying of 2020 and hope for something better from the coming year.

I’m not really a Christmassy person, to be honest, but I enjoyed A Winter Solstice Celebration very much and will probably play it a few more times before the year is over. While many or all of the songs and tunes will be familiar to many of you, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by these interpretations. They’re certainly infinitely pleasant to listen to than a certain song by Slade!

David Harley

Artist’s website: http://www.copperplatemailorder.com/copperplate-home/shop/


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