Seóirse BODLEY (b.1933)
Symphony No 4
1. Andante - Moderato
4. Alla Marcia - Allegro
Symphony No 5 "The Limerick Symphony"
5. Grave - Allegro
9. Maestoso - Allegro
National Symphony Orchestra
of Ireland/Colman Pearce
Rec. 1-2 June 1999 in The National Concert Hall,
MARCO POLO 8.225157
Irish symphonic music has always dwelt to a greater or lesser extent in the
shadow of the English symphonic school. So many of the prominent Irish composers
of the last century or more were trained in England and naturally absorbed
a certain amount of the musical language of the likes of Stanford (himself
Irish), Vaughan Williams, Tippett and Maxwell-Davies. Although Seóirse
Bodley was trained in Dublin, and later in Stuttgart, it is impossible to
deny the English influence on his symphonic writing. In the 4th
and 5th symphonies this is allied to some fairly heavy influence
of that other great symphonist of the early 20th century, Sibelius,
and a feel for the darker colours of orchestration is apparent throughout
these two works.
Both of these symphonies date from 1991 but the language of the writing is
of a more mid-century accent. Bodley has made a point of keeping his symphonic
writing accessible, notwithstanding some years studying avant-garde music
in his earlier days. These works are cast very much in the mold of late romantic
mainstream symphonic composition, although in these two works Bodley was
making his first large scale references to classical forms for some years.
The 4th Symphony (commissioned by the Orcestra Sinfonica
dell'Emilia Romagna "Arturo Toscanini" and premiered in the Teatro Farnese
in Parma) is the more immediately appealing of the two. Of 27 minutes duration
it makes a jaunty impact with bright orchestration and colourful harmony.
Although the composer, in the informative accompanying essay, makes reference
to the use of elements of Irish music, this is only obviously apparent in
a typically Irish sounding flute solo in the final movement.
The 5th Symphony (written for the commemoration of the
300th anniversary of the Siege of Limerick) is on a rather larger
scale, being cast in five movements and lasting for 45 minutes. The faster
movements come off better than the two slow movements, both of which tend
towards a lack of architectural clarity. These slow movements tend to be
unable to build organically to a successful climax and, although Bodley makes
reference to the idea of a "continuously evolving
melodic line" this
does tend to obscure any sense of the architectural.
The performance of both symphonies is undeniably impressive. The National
Symphony Orchestra of Ireland has placed great importance over a number of
years on fostering and promoting the work of Irish composers and they often
sound better in this type of repertoire than in more mainstream works. Colman
Pearce also has placed significant emphasis on modern Irish music and the
orchestra responds convincingly to his direction. The woodwind solos (especially
flute and oboe) are excellently played, although the recording brings them
rather too far forward in relation to the occasional solo violin passages.
Otherwise, the recorded sound is well balanced and clear, particularly benefiting
the lower strings.
This recording is one of a large number featuring the NSOI in Irish symphonic
repertoire, and it is a repertoire that is well worth exploring. The listener
to these symphonies must not, however, expect to hear anything startlingly
new. Both works are anchored firmly in the historical context of Symphonic
writing, but are none the less interesting for it.