Once in a Red Moon
Though you may find its albums stashed among the new-age electronica, the distinctively international duo Secret Garden takes giant steps away from your average ambient players on Once in a Red Moon (548678; 51:14 Decca). Drawing from their native Scandinavian and Celtic traditions, keyboardist Rolf Lovland and violinist Fionnuala Sherry craft inspirational tales in detailed, lovely layers. From the tense conversational depths of the gorgeous "Duo" (featuring cellist Julian Lloyd Webber) to the highly illustrative images of flight in "Silent Wings," Lovland and Sherry find just the right touches to convey vivid emotions. In the case of "Awakening," inspired by the landmark Kate Chopin novel, an entire story unfolds as the Celtic-toned, stately piano beginning gives way to emerging orchestral colors, mirroring the heroine's journey from tradition to self-discovery. Though Sherry's violin remains the emotional center throughout, guest players-from Liam O'Flynn's haunting Uillean pipes and Karen Matheson's beautiful vocals to Simon Emes' gentle, unexpected oboe-surround her with sparkling, highlighting detail. The Celtic chorale "Anuna," for example, provides an affecting layer of desperation to the ultimately uplifting "Elegie," a resonant ending to a wonderful album.