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 and Ferdia)
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 exception. 

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 festive conclusion”.
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. 

Hubert Culot 

A fine survey of recent works by one of the most distinguished Irish composers of his generation.