Various Artists, The Music of Wales, The Folk Collection (Sain, 2004)

Various Artists, The Music of Wales, The Classic Collection (Sain, 2004)

Nos da. Croeso I Gymru. To those of you not fluent in Welsh that means "Good morning. Welcome to Wales."

Wales has always been a kind of forgotten sibling to England, Scotland and Ireland. But the Welsh language is as Celtic as Gaelic, though the languages sound very different, and Welsh music has the same right to be included under the Celtic tag as Irish and Scottish.

Sain is the leading record company in Wales, recording all kinds of music, as long as it is Welsh. Sain is also responsible for these two compilations, showcasing the richness of the musical culture in Wales. At the heart of Welsh music you find singing. The country has its share of famous singers in Tom Jones, Bonnie Tyler, Alec Jones and Bryn Terfel to name a few. The Welsh language is rich in vowels and very suited for vocal extravaganza.

I am not sure about the title of "The Folk Collection." I admit half of the 16 tracks are of the trad arr-kind. But there are quite a few tracks, Sian James's brilliant "Pan ddoi adre'n ol" among them, that are more pop/rock than folk. Most of the tracks are songs, all of which are sung in Welsh. Some songs stand out. Heather Jones does a beautiful interpretation of the traditional "Lisa Lan". It comes with backing bouzoukis and interludes on the pipes, and is the best song on the album. "Bugenio'r Gwenith Gwyn" is another slow song, also sung by Rachel. It is backed by the traditional Welsh harp, with short flute passages added between verses. Plethyn perform "Mil Harddach Wyt" a cappella, with the male and female harmonies blending very well.

The harp is the Welsh national instrument. It is represented on many tracks, with harp master Robin Huw Bowen performing the only solo harp piece, his own "Hen Aelwyd/Llif Ystwyth." "Jigolo/Harri Morgan" is another instrumental set performed by the most well known of all Welsh groups, Ar Log, who started their career in the early 1980s. It is a more rhythmic set than anything mentioned previously in this review. But my favourite among the instrumental tracks is "Tatws Penfro", a traditional hornpipe, played by Crasdant. Not loud by any account, but still very rhythmic, full of syncopations and tricks learned from the folk rock groups.

As expected "The Classical Collection" broadens the scope. The performers are Welsh of course, as are a large number of the songs and pieces, but you also get some non-Welsh pieces, like "Ave Maria" by Bach and Gounod and a Welsh interpretation of a piece from Handel's Messiah. There is a strong focus on vocals on this as well. Seven of the 18 pieces are performed by solo singers, another five by choirs. In between you get harp pieces, solo piano, organ, violin and a brass band.

I am not that well acquainted with classical singers, but even I recognise Bryn Terfel, Iona Jones and Alec Jones who are present on the album. Terfel sings "Ora pro nobis" by Welsh composer Meirion Williams. Iona Jones sings the aforementioned "Ave Marie", while Alec Jones's treble is accompanied by an organ on "Panis Angelicus". But my favourites on the album are "A Gogoniant yr lor", Handel's "Glory to God" from the Messiah, performed by a mixed choir, the powerful male choir version of "Dashenka" and Catrin Finch peforming "Bugeilio'r gwenith gwyn", also present as a song on the folk album, on harp.

Together these albums present a nations musical heritage. They provide a fine starting point for anyone wishing to get musically acquainted with Wales. They also serve well as a souvenir from the country, which according to its people would be larger than England if you flattened out all the mountains and hills.

[ Lars Nilsson]