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Music from Northern Ireland
Stephen GARDNER (b. 1958)
Mutable Sea (1999) [12:31]
Ed BENNETT (b. 1975)
Lost and Found (2002) [13:45]
Kevin O’CONNELL (b. 1958)
Piano Trio (2002) [20:13]
Simon MAWHINNEY (b. 1976)
Barcode 2 (2001) [5:28]
Elaine AGNEW (b. 1967)
Statues (2001) [12:00]
Michael ALCORN (b. 1962)
Off the Wall (2001)
Lontano/Odaline de la Martinez
rec. Watham Hall, St. Paul’s Boys School, London, October 2003
LORELT LNT 117 [73:30]


This is another “thematic” release from an enterprising label. Lorelt often plan their recordings around an instrument’s repertoire or around some common theme - their earlier releases centred on British women composers. This disc explores the works of Irish, Ulster-born composers of various generations and of different musical backgrounds. Most are young and the older ones are still in their late forties. Moreover, most of the pieces are also fairly recent - composed a few years ago.

Stephen Gardner’s Mutable Sea from 1999 is the only work for ensemble in this selection of chamber works. It is also the earliest. The piece is a sort of miniature tone poem. It opens with a beautifully atmospheric seascape. The music then becomes animated in the central section before concluding with a brief restatement of the opening, abruptly cut short. At about ten minutes into the piece, the piano plays an ostinato reminiscent of the piano part in the third movement of Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements; none the worse for that. This vivid short piece is very fine and deserves to be heard.

Ed Bennett, whose music is new to me, completed his Lost and Found for violin and piano in 2002. “From the aggressive to the introspective, Lost and Found is in five distinct sections, all of which treat similar musical material in different ways” (the composer’s words). This is exactly what happens in this theme and variations. The work opens with a rather nervous and turbulent section Frantic and concludes with a dreamy epilogue Extremely Quiet and Calm of great lyrical beauty.

Superficially O’Connell’s substantial Piano Trio could be a suite based on Baroque models. Its movement are Fuga, Scherzo, Adagio and Passacaille. In reality the composer intended neither pastiche nor parody. He simply wished to revisit these forms from his own point of view rather than to imitate Classical models. The opening fugue is “slow and austere”, almost reticent. The Scherzo is whimsical and its central section ghostlike, but the whole is lively. The beautiful Adagio is an unbroken cantilena for violin and cello. The piano briefly tries to disrupt the proceedings, but in vain. The concluding Passacaille, though not lacking in weight, is not of the grandly assertive sort. On the whole, the music is understated but effective, and quite beautifully made.

Simon Mawhinney’s name and music were also new to me. By the way, he is the youngest composer represented. Barcode 2 is a short duo for flute and clarinet in five sections. At first, the players are at some distance from each other. They play independently and at different tempi. At the end of each section signalled by a trill, they move closer to each other and the music progressively becomes more coherent each time, so that they end up by playing in unison. Nothing new under the sun, maybe, but this short piece works very well indeed.

Elaine Agnew’s music is probably better known, especially her splendid Strings A-Stray for string orchestra (on Black Box BBM 1013 hopefully still available). Statues, completed in 2001, is a substantial duo for violin and piano. It opens with a short, pensive prologue for solo violin. With the piano’s entry, the music becomes more song-like in character and leads into the central section, actually a moto perpetuo. The epilogue briefly echoes the opening music. A brief restatement of the moto perpetuo’s music brilliantly, but abruptly concludes the piece.

“The piece is my response to the modern phenomenon of urban graffiti”, says Michael Alcorn about Off the Wall for string quartet. The music is more modern sounding than that of the other pieces here. There is something of Ferneyhough’s New Complexity as well as of so-called “spectral” music at work here. This is a demanding piece of vivid, rhythmically nervous, often capricious and virtuosic music; stronger stuff.

This release might be considered a sequel to Lorelt’s earlier disc New Zealand Women Composers (LNT 116). However the music here is much better and consistently interesting with performances to match. Well worth investigating.

Hubert Culot

 

 



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