Brian McNamara: Portrait of a Piper – Masterly return of a piper who plays with pinprick precision

First collection from Leitrim piper in two decades is a feast for fans of this magnificent instrument

Portrait of a Piper
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Artist: Brian McNamara
Genre: Traditional
Label: Independent release

The Leitrim piper Brian McNamara has long been known for the pinprick precision of his playing. He is a musician of great maturity and reflection who chooses his tunes with great care. It’s almost two decades since his last album, and this solo collection is a feast for anyone with a weakness for this most orchestral of instruments.

For this album McNamara has borrowed a number of tunes from the seminal Goodman collection, gathered from Munster pipers in the 19th century. Cath Chnoc na nOs (better known in some parts as Allistrum’s March or The Battle of Knocknanuss) is an object lesson in restrained pacing, with McNamara striking a masterly balance between chanter and regulators, the former navigating the spine of the tune while the latter embellishes with understated ease.

The influence of Liam O’Flynn is palpable in McNamara’s tune choices (The Boy in the Gap being one of the most stirring) and in the almost regal quality of his playing. His inclusion of a number of iconic airs is therefore fitting – and his reading of the Blasket Island air Port na bPúcaí is sublime. The influence of his long-time friend and pipemaker Benedict Koehler is also evident, particularly in McNamara’s inclusion of two tunes borrowed from him, Waltz Mary Ellen and the slip jig Trotting to Larne.

Another gracious collection from an astute piper in thrall to this magnificent instrument.

Siobhán Long

Siobhán Long

Siobhán Long, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about traditional music and the wider arts