This is Volume 5 in RTÉ Lyric FM's commendable 'Composers of
Ireland' series. It was recently reviewed on this site here.
Volume 3, devoted to the music of Seóirse Bodley, was reviewed
According to RTÉ Lyric FM, Ireland's only art music label, their
goal is "to promote classical music, Irish musicians and
composers at home and abroad by creating a commercially available,
quality record of how much incredible music is being made in
this country." Not only are they doing a splendid job,
but Ian Wilson's works are a fine example of the exciting things
happening in Irish music.
Man-o'-War was commissioned by and premiered at the BBC
Proms in 2001. With its prominent brass and percussion, it is
a driving, muscular work as audacious and malevolent as a deadly
jellyfish, English warship or thoroughbred racehorse.
An Angel Serves a Small Breakfast is the not altogether
helpful title of what is in effect Wilson's second violin concerto,
written for the soloist here, Rebecca Hirsch. The title is printed
in the documentation uncapitalised, presumably because it takes
its name from a pretentious lithograph by Paul Klee ('Ein Genius
Serviert ein Kleines Fruhstück', 1920, and not apparently de-capitalised
itself), but Wilson's writing is anything but pretentious. Sounding
more like a violin concerto slow movement, and written in fact
as such, the violin part is blended into the orchestral texture
- instead of traditional heroic/virtuosic opposition, there
is a modern integration, with the violin and orchestral strings
mainly adhering to their upper registers to give an almost rhapsodic
Winter Finding was commissioned by RTÉ and is Wilson’s
one-movement musical response to four poems by Lavinia Greenlaw,
in turn commissioned by Wilson! The poems, which are included
in the booklet, loosely allude to the four seasons of the year,
and are of the take-them-or-leave-them variety, but Wilson's
work again outshines its inspiration. Wilson appears to have
Irish weather at the back of his mind, because the bristling,
energetic music is generally short on sunshine and calm, yet
nor is there ever a dull moment, particularly when a squall
briefly whips up towards the end.
All the works so far showcase Wilson's musical imagination and
considerable orchestrational skills, but the final work, Licht/ung,
despite its rather showy oblique, in some ways surpasses what
has gone before. Wilson's extra-musical inspiration here was
a series of photos of post-apocalyptic Nagasaki taken in 1961.
Given the subject matter, no musical response is likely to be
sunny or upbeat, and that much is true of Licht/ung,
yet Wilson manages to extract some moments of calm reflection
and melancholic realisation from the memories of awful destruction
and desolation. Nevertheless, this is a dark, bleak, expressive
work that cedes little ground to tonality or melody. Though
viscerally exciting, it is wisely placed as the final track,
but after the first three works have been digested, most listeners
should find it quite accessible.
Wilson's music is wonderfully played by the RTÉ National Symphony
Orchestra under the expert guidance of Porcelijn and Markson.
Sound quality is absolutely superb - an example to all labels
of the kind of quality that is attainable. The booklet does
not say what works were recorded on which dates, but is otherwise
informative, with good notes on the music by Tim Rutherford-Johnson.
Another equally impressive side of Ian Wilson's compositional
talents can be found in his string quartets, the first six of
which are available on CD - see reviews here
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
See also review by Hubert