It’s not every day we see a release of traditional Irish tunes that isn’t marketed at those clutching at their Irish roots. Mix this with an Australian cellist and you have a real treat for those not only interested in traditional Irish songs, but classical music lovers as well. Yet it’s not just Isle De Ziah’s nationality that makes ‘Irish Airs for Solo Cello’ something special; the cello itself offers a new perspective on these traditional airs, and cleverly modern arrangements can only be seen as a ray of light after the storm cloud that has been over our native songs.
From the onset of this ten track album it is clear that de Ziah is not only an extremely talented cellist, but arranger of great skill as well. It opens with Carrickfergus, a tune familiar to most. De Ziah offers a lot to the listener here; her emotive playing manages to dictate the sentiment of the song without the presence of lyrics. The arrangement also allows her to hint at the modern features to be experienced later in the album. Buachaille Ó’n Eirne, although it begins with a familiarity, soon becomes a haunting and mysterious piece created by plucking and the shrieking sound De Ziah draws from her cello. Like before, the warm colours in Aisling An Oig-Fhir created by a higher register shows that these contemporary arrangements can be as emotional as conventional ones. Fanny Power is given a contemporary twist with the repetitive bowing and a diverse structure.
Unlike some of the previous tracks Down by the Sally Gardens is a case of ‘why fix something that isn’t broken?’. The tune is very much similar to the traditional one, yet de Ziah sees it break into something wonderful by increasing the speed and energy with which she plays before coming back to a more sombre and sustained sound. Again, an emotional roller-coaster. A stunning rendition of A Stór Mo Chroí reiterates that without the words these pieces are just as effective. And the long drones allow for a connection with the traditional roots of the song, allowing the listener to exit having experienced the highlights of both traditional and modern composition.
‘Irish Airs for Solo Cello’ is not your average combination of Irish tunes. De Ziah offers more than the ‘diddly aye’ that some of these tunes have been subjected to in the past. Throughout it is obvious to hear, not only her skill, but her passion for these airs – it’s not just a desire to please a handful of tourists. She manages to gives the listener a fresh outlook on the songs we may well be long fed up of, by giving them a modern twist and a new heart.