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'A Piper’s Dream'

A Piper_s Dream - Front Cover.jpg

Irish Music Magazine - John Bophy Oct. 2000

A great collection which had me on the edge of the chair (sofa, really) right form the start. Musically it shows the intelligence and fruit of a long apprenticeship. This is a player who knows the pipes, and it would be unthinkable to have this music played on any other instruments, with it's effortless rolls, crans and ornaments. Not only does he show the unique capabilities of pipes as a solo instrument, but he's able to blend with his sister, Deirdre, on concertina, with Michael Rooney on harp, an unusual if historical pairing which works very well and with Jens Kommnick on guitar.

The material is very interesting. Certainly there are classics like Colonel Frazer and The Groves hornpipe, taken at a very deliberate pace, but there are many other tunes taken form unpublished sources. One collection is by William Ford of Cork, who died in 1850, and only 87 of the 150 tunes he collected in Leitrim from piper Hugh O'Beirne were printed. Even more important is the manuscript collection of more than 1000 tunes by Stephen Grier (1824-1894). Of these 64 are in Ceol Rince na hÉireann vol. 4, and 20 appeared on the CD Leitrim's Hidden Treasure on which Brian played. For this solo debut he has used another seven. By my reckoning, that's at least 923 to be aired! The notes and production are a model: he's even found out about the Gusty in Gusty's Frolics. Time was the catch-phrase about the county, referring to soil fertility, was "Leitrim, God help us!" Now with the likes The Hidden Treasures and what Brian has shown here, it's going to be "Leitrim, God's blessed us!

John Brophy, October 2000

Irish Voice - Review - A "Dream" on the Pipes by Don Meade

Brian McNamara is a south Leitrim man and proud of it. Born in 1967 in Carrickavoher, Aughavas, Brian was 12 years old when he was introduced to the uilleann pipes, an instrument with a long tradition in the area. The continuity of that tradition was sundered in the early 1900s by emigration and depopulation. Now Brian's mastery of this most Irish of instruments, as heard on his new recording A Piper's Dream, has put south Leitrim piping back on the musical map.

In 1998 Brian produced and played on Leitrim's Hidden Treasure, an acclaimed family recording that included his flute-playing father and musical siblings in performances of tunes largely gathered from local sources. A Piper's Dream, which also draws heavily on the Leitrim tradition, should further enhance Brian's reputation as one of the finest pure pipers in Ireland.

In contrast to the fast-and-furious "open" piping favored by such popular players as Paddy Keenan, Finbar Furey and John McSherry, Brian prefers a less turbo-charged style that is closer to the kind of piping heard in Leitrim long ago. Speed is cheaply impressive, but seasoned listeners will appreciate Brian's perfect intonation, beautiful chordal accompaniment on the "regulators" and deftly fingered staccato triplets. He also gives old-time flavor to many selections by playing low-pitched pipes without the shrillness that often afflicts modern concert-pitch sets.

Many tunes on A Piper's Dream were learned from manuscript collections put together in south Leitrim in the 19th century by piper Stephen Grier and fiddlers Thomas Kiernan and Alex Sutherland. Others are classic piping pieces from the repertoire of the late masters Séamus Ennis and Willie Clancy.

A Piper's Dream is not a purely solo effort. Guitarist Jens Kommnick and harp virtuoso Michael Rooney provide beautiful accompaniment on many tracks. Brian's concertina-playing sister Deirdre also joins him for some telepathically close note-for-note duets. Readers interested in the history of the tunes and the south Leitrim musical tradition will get great enjoyment from Brian's scholarly liner notes, which include an essay on the history of piping in the region and much information on the tunes themselves.

Don Meade

Musical Traditions - Review Rod Stradling - 30.7.00

This is going to be an extremely difficult CD to review at any length, since decency
demands that it shouldn't be just a rehash of the McNamara Family CD review, and nor ought it to re-use the same list of superlatives - but it's very, very hard not to!

In one way A Piper's Dream is even more of an achievement than Leitrim's Hidden Treasure. To make a wonderful record with a six-piece band is one thing - to present 64 minutes of more-or-less solo playing and retain the listener's interest right to the last note is not a trick many have been able to master ... certainly not at Brian's relatively young age. But he has and he does.

The music throughout is a joy to listen to - interesting and unusual tunes, or versions, played in the unhurried, relaxed style which so attracted me on the Family disc. (sound clip - An tSean Bhean Bhocht) I can't praise this too highly ... I understand that Séamus Ennis scorned fast playing, feeling that it was so often employed to disguise poor technique. That may well be so, but it also tends to obscure good technique when that is at the player's command - to say nothing of what it does to the shape and flow of a tune. Here, there's technique in abundance, displayed at a pace at which I'm capable of appreciating it.

I called this 'more-or-less solo' playing because Brian is joined at times by his sister Deirdre on concertina and backed by Michael Rooney on harp and Jens Kommnick on guitar. My preference is for unaccompanied solo performance (as is the case here in 10 of the 17 tracks), but I can find little to quarrel with in the contributions of any of these musicians. Deirdre plays so tightly with her brother that it's often difficult to believe that you're actually hearing two separate instruments, although I'm pleased to see that she does get to lead the set at least once - in the jigs track 8 (sound clip - Stoney Batter), but this may just be that Brian's playing a flat-pitched set, so that the higher-voiced concertina is more obvious.

The beautifully produced booklet is full of useful and interesting information, including a four-page account of the South Leitrim piping tradition from the late 18th century to the present day. Although space requires it to be in somewhat condensed form, this and the notes to the tunes - full of references to Brian's sources - are both excellent. I was particularly interested to find out that the English jig I know as the The New May Moon is actually the traditional Irish tune Tom Moore used for his song The Young May Moon and which was (still is) known as The Old Figaree in Leitrim, where it's found in the Grier MS - source of many of the tunes on both McNamara CDs.

All in all, a thoroughly excellent CD - contending for my 'Irish music record of the year'.

Rod Stradling - 30.7.00

The Living Tradition - Alex Monaghan - Sept./Oct. 2000

Brian McNamara is a Leitrim piper who is well known in sessions around Dublin. He was previously featured on the excellent McNamara family CD "Leitrim's Hidden Treasure". This time he has a recording all to himself, over an hour of exquisite piping from South Leitrim and beyond. The Drumlin tradition of glossy presentation, copious sleeve notes and flawless production is continued with this CD, and from track one it's obvious that the music is once again first class.

Brian is a very neat piper, not very flamboyant but precise and measured, with all the notes in the right place. The tunes here are taken at a reasonable pace, and the
intricacies of Brian's fingerwork are plain to hear. In fact, this would make excellent training material for younger pipers. The playing is more than just technically precise, though; there's an intuitive feel for the music which comes through both in the playing and in the notes. It's been my privilege to participate in a few sessions with Brian, and his empathy with the tradition, and with his instrument, was evident
then as here. There is a warmth of tone and a naturalness in the playing on this CD which is all too rare in recorded music. Listening to the fluency in " The Tailor's Twist" or "Sean Bui", it is easy to imagine that the pipes are playing themselves. There's an old-fashioned feel to many of the 17 tracks (63 minutes) which I like. The style of piping is rather more staccato than the current fashion, and the minimal accompaniment is more akin to the 19th century than the 21st. There's a bit of guitar from Jens Kommnick, some sparkling touches from young harpist Michael Rooney, and some duetting with Deirdre McNamara on concertina, but otherwise Brian is on his own. Highlights? The big reel "Colonel Fraser", the "Beauties of Ireland" jigs with Deirdre, the powerful air "Loch na gCaor", and the reel "The Morning Thrush" which ends this most enjoyable and engaging recording.

Alex Monaghan Sept./Oct. 2000

The Sunday Tribune - Review by Fintan Vallely - July 23rd 2000

Brian McNamara - "A Piper's Dream"

A tremendous piece of 'concert' and 'flat piping with attention to detail rarely heard. Superb technique explores uilleann pipes tone and pitch potential, set with intricate yet non-competitive harp, concertina and guitar. Not only is the great variety in tight-fingered, unusual and interesting tunes metered zealously with punched-card precision, but 'hard-Ds', trills, rolls and accompaniment too. This, with slow tempo, may disappoint for perhaps restraining emotion, but here is awesome time given to music, in a dramatic marker for the piper's ignored stylistic area.

Fintan Vallely - July 23rd 2000

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