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MWI amrwd review

For many music-lovers, their experience of Welsh folk-song may stretch no further than such choral favourites as Ar hyd y nos (‘All through the Night’) or Nos Galan (sung around Christmas as ‘Deck the Halls’).  But those are relatively recent compositions, ‘folk songs’ only in the sense that nobody knows for sure who composed them.  Needless to say, there is a rich treasury of ancient Welsh traditional music, just as there is for Irish music, even if the Welsh haven’t suffered as much as have the Irish from the fake rubbish served up by the likes of the ghastly Shane MacGowan.  

Welsh musicians Angharad Jenkins and Patrick Rimes have fifteen years of playing together, numerous studio albums, and several wide-ranging tours under their belts. They are recognised not only as two of the finest performers of Welsh traditional song, but also as innovators in reimagining familiar old tunes. These two multi-instrumentalists (Jenkins provides fiddle and voice, whilst Rimes also provides viola, piano, and even foot percussion) show their ability through a considered selection of tunes and songs, chosen to exemplify the best of traditional and contemporary Welsh music. 

The net result is that although we are hearing the work of just two musicians, there is plenty of variety of tone, style and texture.  The purely instrumental first track ‘Brandy Cove’ shows immediately their excellence as fiddlers.  Stringed instruments have a venerable history in Welsh music, all the way back to the mediaeval crwth, one of the forerunners of the modern string family.

Rosehill’, sung by Jenkins with Rimes at the piano, is an attractive song by Jenkins herself about a community park in Swansea, while Nant Y Mynydd’ (‘Mountain Stream’) is a setting of a 19th century poem by John Ceiriog Hughes, with fiddle and percussion accompaniment transforming its character in interesting ways.

Some of these songs were, unsurprisingly, new to me.  But we also encounter three more that are very famous in their different ways. Calon Lân (‘Pure Heart’) is a famous hymn text, but is here sung to a totally different melody from the rousing anthem so familiar at rugby internationals and the like!  For me this was the highlight of the whole disc, Jenkins’ velvety tones duetting movingly with the plaintive sound of Rimes’s viola.

I wasn’t quite so sure about Myfanwy.  I’m a sucker for this sentimental ballad, but it somehow felt a little out of place in this cool context.  The word ‘Amrwd’ means ‘raw’; but there’s nothing underdone about Myfanwy’s cloying harmonies!  On the other hand the beautiful love-song Tra Bo Dau (‘While there are two’) worked superbly, with Rimes’s minimal piano part perfectly complementing the simply expressed emotions of the melody.  

The final track brings us the tender ‘The Seatons’, a delightful instrumental number featuring Jenkins’ fiddle with Rimes at the piano. It begins gently, reflectively, then changes gear to a lively, rhythmically supple dance. It brings this lovely CD to a fittingly calm close.

There is unaffected scholarship here, alongside considerable skill and imagination.  Highly enjoyable, sweetly relaxing, and well worth a listen after, for example, a hectic session of Christmas shopping!

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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