Kirsten Allstaff: Flute form Scotland and Ireland

Online Irish Academy of Music 001

Flautist Kirsten Allstaff was raised in Scotland and now lives in Ireland, where she co-founded the Online Irish Academy of Music. She honors her pan-Celtic perspective with a new project appropriately titled Gallowglass–the name of Scottish mercenaries on the losing side of various independence movements who relocated to Ireland and fought for Irish chieftains from the 13th century on. Gallowglass warriors were renowned for their toughness. One hears a bit of tenacity in Allstaff's playing, though she wields her wooden flute as more of a velvet sword. The reel set "Sleep Sound in Da Mornin" opens with Tony Trundel's martial bodhran, but once Allstaff eases in, he damps the percussion to allow the flute notes to flutter like birds' wings.

Allstaff's repertoire is gleaned from both sides of the Irish Sea, as she draws inspiration from legends past and present such as Matt Molloy, Mary McNamara, Peter Horan, Johnny Cunningham, Tom Anderson, and Kevin Kennedy. Her take on "March of the King of Laoise/The Train Journey North" is a masterful mash of haunting, heavily accented Scots-style piobaireachd and the jumpy, rapid-fire tempos favored by Irish flautists. She also shows her Scots roots in that the album features more reels than jigs and through her love of ornamentation, but she takes a backseat to none when she gets her Irish up for jig sets such as "The Humours of Ayle House."  As a matter of personal taste, I was quite taken by waltz offerings such as "MaitĂș's Waltz" and her lovely cover of Johnny Cunningham's "Leaving Brittany," a piece that the late Mr. Cunningham often used to ham it up a bit. Allstaff, by contrast, plays the waltz with delicacy and subtlety, the latter evidenced in her interchanges with fiddler Adam Shapiro. If that's too tame for your blood, listen to Allstaff tear it up in "The Mullinavat" reel set. Allstaff's breath control is amazing–we seldom hear puffs of air, though we do hear plenty of tik-tik sounds as her fingers fly up and down the shaft. Give this album a listen; Kirsten Allstaff is the most exciting flautist to emerge from Ireland since Nuala Kennedy. Or is she Scottish? It hardly matters; she's no mercenary, rather an emissary of great music.–Rob Weir

Hear the launch party for this CD here.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbkExSo6tRQ

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