Hebrides Ensemble/Ailish Tynan

Airs from Another Planet


THIS excellent collection of chamber pieces by composer Judith Weir was occasioned by the Master of the Queen’s Music dedicating one of the most recent of them, Nuits d’Afrique, to soprano Ailish Tynan, who premiered the four-song cycle at the Wigmore Hall, but it ranges back to instrumental music written 30 years earlier to make a lovely overview of Weir’s work – and an ideal entry point for those unfamiliar with it.

It also spans a great deal of geography and history, with that piece, which sets some beautiful (and funny) recent African poetry, preceding the Three Chorales which Weir composed around the same time, drawing on the Psalms and medieval writings of Hildegard of Bingen. The last vocal piece dates from 2002 and uses 19th century words by the Brothers Grimm and Johann Peter Hegel that occupy the territory between fairytale and philosophy that seems archetypal Judith Weir.

With front-desk BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra players and pianist James Willshire among the ensemble cellist William Conway has assembled for this edition of the Hebrides, only the piano solo Day Break Shadows Free falls into to a recent era of work. The Bagpiper’s String Trio and the suite that gives the album its title (and is subtitled “Traditional music from outer space”) both reference Weir’s Scots heritage and date from the mid-1980s. They are however both looking into the future, and her still-fresh approach to those trad music sources makes for music that would sit rather well in Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival today.

Keith Bruce