The first McCaffrey/Opland/Freeman collaboration -- "The Masterharper of Pern" -- has been overwhelmingly popular with McCaffrey's fans. Listeners not previously familiar with the books who have been brave enough to get the CD anyway have also raved about it.
The back story to the novels is that colonists came to Pern from Earth millennia earlier, but the new world lacked the natural resources to maintain their technology. Crucial information that had to survive through the centuries was written into music, and a special class of musicians created to preserve and disseminate that music.
Since the colonists came from many different countries and cultures, and brought with them the full spectrum of terrestrial music, those influences would have all been present in the music of Pern from the start, but as the level of technology declined and the society reverted to feudalism, musical styles that suited acoustic instruments - and memorable lyrics for unamplified voices - survived.
Tania Opland and Mike Freeman were already performing music from many (Earth-based) countries and cultures, on a diverse assortment of instruments, before Anne McCaffrey approached them about composing the music she'd been describing in her books for so many years. They had been about to record their first duo album at the time, but they were so taken by the idea that they put their project on a back burner and got to work on "The Masterharper of Pern". Their cross-cultural collection "Cut to Rhythms" didn't get finished until more than a year later.
They've revisited Pern for "Sunset's Gold", with guest vocals from Alicia Healey, William Pint, Felicia Dale, Toni Wood, Joe Prater, and Emily Groff, and instrumental contributions from Philip Boulding (folk harp and valiha), Harper Tasche (folk harp and bray harp), Madeleine Doherty (concert harp) and Felicia Dale (hurdy gurdy). Opland and Freeman, as usual, pitch in with vocals, guitars, violin/viola, recorders, hammered dulcimer, cittern, mandola, djembe, congas, frame drums, bells, bones, glasses, pan lids...
The cover illustration, by Elizabeth Malczynski Littman, graced the 1977 edition of the first Harperhall novel, "Dragonsong", and was an all-time favorite for many of McCaffrey's readers.
This is a CD which aims to give reality to the music imagined in Hugo & Nebula award winning author Anne McCaffrey's Harperhall novels. Anne is in the front rank of Fantasy writers, having won many awards over several decades. Tania and Mike are accomplished musicians, Mike as guitarist and percussionist, and Tania on a variety of instruments from hammered dulcimer to viola and recorder. Tania is also an excellent acapella ballad singer. In performance the couple have an eclectic repertoire from many different traditions, which forms an excellent basis for creating music at once familiar but with a touch of the "alien", and the CD opens with the unaccompanied lament "Song for Petiron" which has a strong middle eastern flavour, hinting perhaps at the heat and exotic scent of a world where dragons are commonplace.
Tania wrote all the music for the CD, and to give form to her compositions she utilises the talents of several clearly outstanding musicians, including in particular three harpists: Philip Boulding, Madeleine Doherty, and Harper Tasche and, on hurdy-gurdy, Felicia Dale. The CD is graced by several instrumental pieces, the first "Gatheritza" a jaunty and percussive dance played by Philip Boulding on the valiha. (Which I find is a bamboo tube zither from Madagascar, played by plucking the strings which are usually made these days from strands of bicycle brake cable.) Equally attractive and rather medieval in flavour are the harp and recorder trio "Equinox", and the truly involving "Hatching Day" with its mixture of Felicia Dale's hurdy-gurdy, and Harper Tasche's bray harp weaving a whirling rainbow of sound reminiscent of a farandole or other French circle dance. The songs too are varied in style, from the minstrelsy of "The Little Queen", through the Celtic ambience of "Sunset's Gold", to the operatic threat of "Brekke's Cry".
This is an accomplished piece of work, and for me it has a rather "retro" 1970s feel to it - the period indeed from which the very beautiful cover art by Elizabeth Malczynski Littman originates. Some of the music is rather reminiscent of Amazing Blondel. If you are an Anne McCaffrey fan you cannot fail to love this CD - no doubt you'll ply it as you read - and even if you are not, there are some great tunes and songs here which will amply reward your attention. Of course, Mike and Tania are constrained by the intention f the CD, and to hear them in full eclectic flow you might like to try other of their CDs - perhaps "Cut to Rhythms". Or hey! - get them both.
- Jim Lawton