Aloys FLEISCHMANN (1910 – 1992)
The Four Masters (1944) [15:54]
Sinfonia Votiva (1960/1977) [24:35]
An Coítín Dearg – Ballet Suite (1951) [19:12]
Clare’s Dragoons (1944)a [16:20]
Gavan Ring (baritone)a; Pat Fitzpatrick (war-pipes)a; RTÉ Philharmonic Choira; RTÉ Philharmonic Orchestra/Robert Houlihan
rec. National Concert Hall, Dublin, 10-12 June 2009 and 12-13 October 2009
RTÉ LYRIC FM CD 127 [75:59]

Born in Munich to Irish-based German parents, Aloys Fleischmann was one of the most prominent personalities in Irish musical life during the 20th century. He was a multi-faceted musician active as conductor, educator, scholar and – more importantly – composer. From the earliest stages of his composing life, he wanted to write distinctively Irish music though still rooted in a broad continental tradition closer to Bartók’s “imaginary folklore” than to RVW’s actual use of folksongs. He remained nevertheless strongly linked with the Irish musical scene and with Cork in particular. He befriended the likes of Bax and Moeran who both shared his interest in the Irish past. Fleischmann’s ties with Irish culture are potent in some of the works recorded here.

The overture The Four Masters was commissioned to commemorate the tercentenary of the death of Micheál Ó Clérigh, a Franciscan lay brother who was the chief of a group of seventeenth-century annalists known as The Four Masters. The overture is cast in a broad sonata form and opens with a slow, solemn introduction leading into the vigorous first subject. This then contrasts with the second lyrical subject. There is much interplay between both till a powerful climax is reached followed by a grand restatement of the second subject. The overture ends with a beautifully inventive coda in which bells joyously peal under a high string chord. Three massive orchestral chords seem to put an end to it; but, instead, strings pick up the bells’ motif until it reaches a high octave D against which a chord is sounded three times by the harp and the music eventually dies away calmly. This is a very fine work full of arresting ideas and nicely judged orchestral touches, the whole sometimes bringing Moeran’s to mind, particularly so in the first subject. This is a piece that ought to be quite popular with orchestras and audiences alike, and one cannot but wonder why it has remained unplayed for so long.

Sinfonia Votiva is a considerably more serious and substantial work. In 1960 Fleischmann composed a diptych Introduction and Funeral March which may be performed as such. The composer, however, always intended it to be part of a larger piece. In 1977 he added the third movement Bacchanal thus completing the Sinfonia Votiva written in memory of a friend from his student years. The Introduction opens in an anguished, dark-hued mood and slowly builds up to a climax before returning to the dark mood of the opening thus paving the way for the Funeral March that follows without a break. This imposing movement is roughly cast in ternary form with a more reflective trio followed by a varied restatement of the funeral march. It leads into the coda recalling some material from the trio and bringing the movement to its quiet close. The Bacchanal opens with a brief arresting flourish before launching into the main section that moves along with much energy for most of its length. The music briefly pauses in a quieter section before regaining its early impetus and rushing relentlessly to its boisterous conclusion. Sinfonia Votiva is a quite imposing work in its own right with much arresting and deeply felt music. The music here is considerably more stringent and at times dissonant than in any of the other works recorded here.

The ballet suite from An Coítín Dearg (“The Red Petticoat”) was drawn from a ballet composed in 1950-1 to a scenario by MacLiammóir. Having been thwarted in their love, two young lovers leave the west if Ireland separately for New York. Despite their more comfortable material circumstances there, they find that they are deeply unhappy, feeling themselves to be rootless. Both return home, but clothed in their American finery, they fail to recognise each other when they eventually meet. When they return to the simplicity that is natural to them they recognise one another again and the love that is between them. (I drew this information from de Barra’s excellent insert notes.) The music is rather more straightforward, at times folk-influenced but completely free of “postcard clichés”; and it often possesses a refreshing earthiness perfectly suited to the scenario. Incidentally, we are not told from which acts the movements of the suite are drawn; but I suspect that the music heard here is derived from the outer acts of the ballet set in the west of Ireland. The suite recorded here omits two movements from the one made by the composer.

The final work in this generously filled release is probably the most overtly Irish of the four. In 1945 the Irish government commissioned a number of composers to write new works to commemorate the centenary of the death of the poet and patriot Thomas Davis, whose literary output includes a number of ballads in which he recounted important events in the history of his native country (information again drawn from de Barra’s notes). Fleischmann chose to set Clare’s Dragoons. His setting is scored for baritone, war pipes, chorus and orchestra; and the work’s thematic material is based on a popular melody to which Davis had written the words for this ballad. De Barra does not mention the tune but it sounds familiar to me although I am unable to say why. The introduction suggests an approaching army. The main theme progressively asserts itself leading into the choir’s first assertive entry. The second stanza reaches a powerful climax abruptly cut short. War-pipes and drums are heard in the distance. When they recede, the baritone has his first entry whereas the choir joins for the refrain. The fourth stanza opens with an unaccompanied fugato that later becomes more densely contrapuntal. The final stanza begins with the baritone recalling Ireland’s wrongs; but the mood soon become more affirmative and the music reaches its final climax when the pipes are heard again. In the final stages of the work the piper marches from the rear of the auditorium and takes his place on stage with the other performers from the grand rousing Finale.

This generously filled release is just superb. Excellent performances and recording serve the music well, whereas de Barra’s insert notes – from which I have lavishly quoted – are detailed and well informed. This magnificent release is a wonderful centenary tribute to a most distinguished composer whose finely crafted and honest music is still too rarely heard.

Hubert Culot