John KINSELLA (b. 1932)
Symphony No.6 (1992/3) [28:34]
Symphony No.7 (1997) [23:43]
Prelude and Toccata (2007) [9:49]
Cúchulain and Ferdia: Duel at the Ford (2008) [14:39]
National Chamber Choir of Ireland (Symphony No.7)
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/Proinnsias Ó Duinn, Gavin Maloney
rec. live, 7 February 2007 (Symphony No.7), 27 May 2009 (Symphony No.6), 22
October 2009 (Prelude and Toccata) and 26 April 2010 (Cúchulain
RTÉ LYRIC FM CD134 [76:51]
Although he is one of the most important Irish composers of his generation John
Kinsella is still all too little known outside Ireland. No surprise that his
music is rather under-represented in the catalogue. Some may remember a recording
of his Third and Fourth Symphonies (Marco Polo 8.223766) and of his Third String
Quartet (Chandos CHAN 9295), and there may be other ones of which I am not aware.
This new instalment in RTÉ lyric fm's ongoing series of composers of
Ireland, of which this is volume 6, is thus most welcome. It fills some gaps
in Kinsella's discography by offering two works written in the last decade of
the twentieth century and two more recent ones written just a few years ago.
Symphonies are an important part of Kinsella's output since there are nine or
ten of them at the time of writing. All of them, at least those that have been
recorded, are substantial and large in scale. The ones recorded here are no
The Symphony No.6 is scored for full orchestra and consists essentially
of two developed movements framed by a powerful declamatory introduction and
capped by a massive final crescendo by way of coda. The four movements form
a large single entity - a truly symphonic conception. The composer explains
that the symphony is dedicated to a group of seven friends with whom he has
shared a love of music, which is why the four orchestral horns are at times
joined by three extra horns “placed outside the orchestra perimeter”.
Thus, after the declamatory introduction the music leads into the first movement,
an extended Allegro with a slower central section. It builds to a massive climax
“topped off by the three extra horns”. The music then slowly dissipates
and launches the second movement Largo in which the accumulated material again
reaches a climax and a cadenza-like passage for the seven horns. The music recedes
slowly before the final energetic crescendo leading to “an abrupt but
The Symphony No.7, too, is in one large single movement falling
into five sections. The last of these calls for a wordless chorus with solo
violin before a final flourish. This mighty work ends on a quiet long-held note.
The Seventh Symphony is a powerful work characterised by tightly organised material
and masterly scoring. Kinsella obviously relishes writing for orchestra and
he uses it with both brio and restraint. “It would be true to say that
this work was written with a keen awareness of Sibelius' Seventh Symphony.”
These words by Kinsella do not tell the whole truth because his Seventh Symphony
by no means imitates Sibelius' final symphony. The Sibelius may have been a
model for the Kinsella Seventh (or Sixth for that matter) but the music and
the way it unfolds and develops are entirely Kinsella's own.
Originally written for string quartet and first performed by the RTÉ
Vanbrugh Quartet, Prelude and Toccata is heard here
in the orchestral transcription made some time later by the composer. The music
is rather demanding and the Prelude apparently allows for some degree of rhythmic
freedom. The ensuing Toccata is “strictly articulated”, as the composer
has it. Kinsella also draws the listener's attention to the fact that the music
derives most of its material from the intervals of Wagner's famous Tristan
chord. The average listener need not worry about this because the work is so
deftly done that you may be forgiven for forgetting about any technicalities
- to enjoy it for what it is.
Cúchulain and Ferdia: Duel at the Ford was composed for
a Gala Concert celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of the RTÉ National
Symphony Orchestra. It also included Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto and the
final scene from Richard Strauss' Salomé. The composer
mentions that the combination of these two pieces directly or indirectly inspired
by both historical and legendary figures gave him the idea of writing a work
on Irish legendary figures. He thus eventually settled to base his work on the
struggle between Cúchulain and Ferdia. These two figures fought for three
days until Cúchulain used the Gáe Bolga (some sort of mass destruction
weapon of its time) to end the fight. Kinsella also seized the opportunity to
use Strauss's large orchestra. The work is straight-forward as to its structure.
It opens and closes in 'storytelling' and legendary mood whereas the somewhat
longer middle section depicting the fight is quite energetic. It is again superbly
scored for large orchestral forces.
Neither the performances nor the recordings can be faulted. They obviously serve
Kinsella's music well. As mentioned earlier Kinsella is undoubtedly Ireland's
most important symphonist. His tightly structured and powerfully expressive
music should definitely be given wider exposure.
A fine survey of recent works by one of the most distinguished Irish composers
of his generation.