To fully understand this album, one first needs to provide a small history lesson. Les Penning a famed folk musician who first started working with Mike Oldfield with ‘Ommadawn’. He also introduced Oldfield to medieval music when they were working together at Penhros Court, hence the title. For this album he is working again with Robert Reed, continuing a collaboration which has been taking place over the last few years (I love their version of the “Doctor Who” theme). Here we see the pair returning both to medieval music and the stylings of Oldfield, where Penning plays a large variety of woodwind instruments (reneaissance treble and soprano recorders, alto crumhorn, garklein, owl ocarina, tenor gemshorn, low F and D whistles) plus the bowed psaltery, while Reed plays everything else. I must admit, I had to trawl google to understand what some of those instruments were, as there are a few there I had not previously come across! There is virtually no percussion on the album, with Reed providing a bodhran here and there, but it used sparingly.
Although the album is bookended with originals from Penning, this album is based heavily on music from Playford’s Dancing Master, a dancing manual containing music which was first published by John Playford in 1651, while other songs are marked “Medieval”, “Old English 16th Century” etc. Penning is of course known for his research in this area, and one of the numbers included is “Argiers”. Again, this is originally from Playford’s Dancing Master, but this arrangement is by Oldfield, and appeared on ‘Ommadawn’. With this all being taken into consideration it is not a surprise as to what this album sounds like, namely medieval music being performed by Oldfield in the mid to late Seventies. Reed has even captured that distinctive electric guitar sound, and together the two musicians have created something which is entrancing, beautiful, beguiling, and almost hypnotic (in “The Fall of A Leaf” there is even a tubular bell). There is no rush, no desire to get from one place to another, the joy is in the journey, as the musicians become magicians and cast a spell.
This is music to be savoured, for the listener to sit down and enjoy without distractions as the world goes by. It takes us back in time, promising sunny days and smiling, happy faces with no fear of catching a virus by stepping outside. It is summer in fields, the light reflecting on a babbling brook, it is a joy and sumptuous delight which keeps on giving. Simply put, if you have ever enjoyed classic Mike Oldfield and the style of music he was producing some 40+ years ago, then this is absolutely essential.
10/10 Kev Rowland