In Highland Cathedral, Phil Coulter, noted Irish composer and pianist, takes simple melodies some traditional songs and others of his own composition and elaborates on them to produce music that is indeed reminiscent of a Nature Cathedral sounding in the holiness of the wild. With stately piano chords, or an overlay of rippling harmonies, rhythmic drums, and mournful pipes, and especially with Aofes ethereal soprano voice, songs such as "Skye Boat Song," "If These Walls Could Speak," and "Going Home" (from Dvoraks New World Symphony) sing to a new audience.
This collection, recorded in Dublins Westland Studio, begins with the namesake song "Highland Cathedral," a simple, dignified melody that, with the addition of bagpipes and a seagull-like calling, remains in my memory long after the music has stopped.
On "Holy Island," the deep-sounding bass is as dominating (though not as irritating) as the thumping bass of a souped-up car stopped at a traffic light; then a breathy, wordless voice overlays the bass with the songs melody. Later, in "The Gathering," the spoken "After the mists of time it comes" is followed by pattering drums that grow to sound like a thundering Riverdance routine.
Throughout this CD, I feel the composer noodling songs to his own muse, some inventions more complex than others. A frenetic Kurt Weill-ish "Countergeist" imparts an incongruous cabaret atmosphere as it wends feverishly on, then stops and interrupts itself, and is the only composition that seems to me to be out of place on the album.
The collection concludes with the intensely spiritual "Island Barque," sung with the beauty of the infinite. Coulter has achieved a Celtic masterwork of lyrical, hummable, rhythmic classics in Highland Cathedral, and in the process, he has created The New Times album of the month.