Deirdre GRIBBIN (b. 1967)
Venus Blazing (2002)a [31:16]
Unity of Being (2001) [10:55]
Empire States (2003) [13:10]
Bradley Creswick (violin)a
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/Gavin Maloney
rec. National Concert Hall, Dublin, 12-13 May 2008 and 24-25 November 2008
RTÉ LYRIC FM CD 125 [55:22]
Deirdre Gribbin’s music is still too little known and recorded. This disc is most welcome in providing a survey of her present output. Incidentally, some of her chamber music was - and may still be available - on Black Box BBM1015, a disc worth seeking out.
By far the most substantial work here is her violin concerto Venus Blazing. It is in three large movements of which the first Aphrodite Terra, though conceived on a fairly traditional large-scale arch-form, is formally quite original and unusual. The soloist’s part unfolds almost independently over a seamless orchestral background of varying density and intensity, the music building to an impressive climax before dying away quietly. The second movement Ishtar is the meditative and almost static heart of the work with a long lyrical line played over a sparse accompaniment. Textures, however, briefly thicken in a short central section of ritualistic character. The final movement Bonon: Flying Bird is a brilliant and extrovert piece of music in which the music moves along at great speed and with much exuberance. Contrast is again provided by slower and calmer episodes. The movement - and the work - ends with an appeased coda touching in its utter simplicity. In her liner-notes the composer mentions that she wanted to add some theatrical character to the performance of the work. She does so by having the soloist moving around the orchestra during the performance, something that Thea Musgrave also did in some of her concertos. On top of that, theatricality has also been brought one step further by having the composer - or presumably someone else - “clad in other-worldly costume, tousled wig and long red nails” with full theatrical lighting. I have never been able to attend a staged performance of Venus Blazing but I very often wonder whether this sort of things really brings something more to the music which is and remains the most important aspect of the work. From this point of view I must say that the work succeeds completely and stands on its own without any extra-musical device. Bradley Creswick’s immaculate playing of the taxing and almost uninterrupted solo part is impressive indeed both in terms of technical assurance and sheer musicality. Venus Blazing is one of the finest recent violin concertos that I have heard over the last few years. It’s quite beautiful and a great piece that clearly deserves wider exposure.
Unity of Being opens forcefully with brass fanfares and pounding drums. There follows a calmer but no less active slower section soon gaining again in intensity recalling the opening material. There is much interplay between various blocks of sound thus providing plenty of contrast. This leads to a drum and timpani cadenza introducing an almost static section that brings the work to its conclusion.
The opening of Empire States suggests “the cacophony and mayhem of the busy city [New York]” as the composer has it. Again there is much contrast in the music alternating brash, raucous and more capricious episodes painting some not always pleasant urban landscape - a siren may even be briefly heard. The music here may sometimes bring that of some American composers to mind such as, say, Christopher Rouse, Tobias Picker or John Corigliano. As in the other works it is superbly crafted and displays a remarkable orchestral flair.
These performances and recording are excellent and up to the high standards that one has come to expect from RTÉ lyric fm. A most welcome introduction. Allow me however to express my habitual complaint about the all-too-short playing time that would have allowed for the inclusion of another of Gribbin’s orchestral scores. This, however, should not deter anyone from investigating this release. It has much fine and often beautiful music to offer.