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GAVIN PENNYCOOK Celtic Nyckelharpa

Celtic Nyckelharpa

Birnam GPCD002

The Nyckelharpa, or Swedish keyed fiddle is a handsome and fearsome thing to behold.  Perhaps the easiest way to describe its appearance is that it resembles a naked hurdy-gurdy, but instead of requiring a handle-turned mechanism, the sound is produced by a bow.

Although this instrument has been around since the fourteenth century, it has remained largely confined to Scandinavia for most of the passing years, which is fine for them, but a real shame for the rest of us, as the instrument is ideally suited to Celtic music, as is eminently shown on this CD.

Gavin’s playing history with, amongst others, Deaf Shepherd, and the fact that he was the first Scotsman to win an All-Ireland fiddle title, are testament to his musicality, and this release acts as a showcase not only for the instrument, but for the player as well.  In addition to the eponymous instrument, Gavin plays fiddle, octave-strung fiddle and Galician bagpipes, and there is well-crafted accompaniment from Rob Truswell, guitar; Esther Kuck, bodhran; Chris Wright, cittern and guitar; and Richie Werner, djembe.

The selection of tunes is astute, too.  By coming up with a collection of reasonably well-known numbers, the listener gets more of an appreciation of the subtleties of tone that the nyckelharpa can bring, as it is easier to compare these versions with others with which we may be more familiar.  The overall effect is dynamic yet subtle, with a deep resonance of tone which really lends itself to the airs, bringing a freshness that makes for compulsive listening.

Hugely recommended.

Gordon Potter

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This album was reviewed in Issue 87 of The Living Tradition magazine.