Ian WILSON (b.1964)
BIG (1991) [7:34]
Jane O’LEARY (b.1946)
Forgotten Worlds (1987) [3:06]
Jennifer WALSHE (b.1974)
becher (2008) [5:40]
Donnacha DENNEHY (b.1970)
Reservoir (2007) [9:44]
Seóirse BODLEY (b.1933)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North (1977) [6:10]
John BUCKLEY (b.1951)
Three Preludes (1995); The Cloths of Heaven [4:14]: Like ghosts from an encounter fleeting [2:24]: Jim Singing [1:51]
Elaine AGNEW (b.1967)
Seagull (c.2007) [5:05]
Brian IRVINE (b.1965)
The Klippel Connection (2008) Nos. 10 [2:55]; 11 [2:08]; 13 [2:03]
Philip MARTIN (b.1947)
Along the Flaggy Shore (1998) [4:39]
Isabelle O’Connell (piano)
rec. Recital Hall of The Performing Arts Center, Purchase College, State University of New York July 2009

As Isabelle O’Connell makes clear in her disc note this isn’t a conspectus of music by contemporary Irish composers. Rather it’s a selection of works that she enjoys. There are nine composers represented and each has something to say.

BIG – yes, it’s upper case all the way – is Ian Wilson’s contribution, a work written back in 1991. It proves strong on Steve Reich-like imperatives. Things veer from heavily chorded to almost winsome. We end in the bass depths having journeyed through four recognisably demarcated sections. Written earlier was Jane O’Leary’s Forgotten Worlds which majors for its three minute length in treble wash and evocative soft spray. Jennifer Walshe wrote becher (yes, lower case this time) in 2008. It’s ‘name that tune’ time in this six minute opus. ‘Micro-quotations’ fizz past, from Bach to the Beatles, as the notes say like an iPod shuffle. Some of these themes then become almost grandiloquently reprised. Fun, baffling, - and a test of your memory bank.

The title track is Reservoir, composed by Donnacha Dennehy in 2007. It cleaves to a rather minimalist course until at around 4:40 the music changes tack, embracing an ochre-based sound that ensures that timbres change and that a degree of animation is embraced. Its genesis was a Bill Viola video of a man being submerged in water so there is a correspondence between parts one and two in her piece and Viola’s above and under water video. Seóirse Bodley’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North sounds like the title of a Glenn Gould radio documentary. It however is a piece that thrives on the opposition between a clement Irish folk melody and contrasting aggressive atonal material, an opposition that becomes increasing naked around the four minute mark.
Elliptical eddies mark out the first of John Buckley’s Three Preludes, whilst the second is more obviously querulous and expansively written. The pensive, quiet and absorbed third ends a fine, compact work. Whilst Buckley’s Preludes took inspiration from Yeats, Shelley and Emily Bronte, Elaine Agnew’s Seagull took its inspiration from a poem by Chris Agee. There are almost Spanish tinged figures here, at least to my ear, a baroque sounding bass figure that doubles as a drone, as well as airy, limpid treble writing. Very effective. Of the thirteen movements of Brian Irvine’s The Klippel Connection we hear three. They are chosen presumably for reasons of contrast and work well as a set – the reflective quite Gallic No.11 is the pick of them. Finally we have Philip Martin’s Along the Flaggy Shore. Here we can experience the rolling bass of the sea and an answering treble fleck. There is also some brutal writing as well – a pounding determinist quality that contrasts with refracted treble writing, and a climactic treble trill. Seamus Heaney’s Postscript is the inspiration.

Much of the music here is rooted in poetic triggers, whether canonic or contemporary. The sea too is a frequent presence, both relentless and relenting. To all this diverse music Isabelle O’Connell brings great imagination and flair, as well as technical assurance. The recording is a fine one and nothing impedes admiration for this imaginative selection.

Jonathan Woolf

Much here is rooted in poetic triggers, canonic or contemporary. The sea too is a frequent presence, both relentless and relenting