Ian WILSON (b.1964)
Man-o'-War, for orchestra (2001) [12:08]
An Angel Serves a Small Breakfast, for violin and orchestra (1999) [16:14]
Winter Finding, for orchestra (2004-5) [20:50] *
Licht/ung, for orchestra (2004) [11:39] *
Rebecca Hirsch (violin)
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/David Porcelijn, *Gerhard Markson
rec. National Concert Hall, Dublin, 26-27 November 2007; 27 November 2006; 4 December 2006. DDD
RTÉ LYRIC FM CD126 [60:51]

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 here.

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 feel.

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 and here.

Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk

Wilson's music is wonderfully played here.