Kevin VOLANS (b. 1949)
Trio Concerto (2005) [25:11]
Symphony: Daar kom die Alibama (2010) [24:14]
Concerto for Piano and Winds (1995, rev. 2012) [23:32]
Isabelle O'Connell (piano)
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra/Gavin Maloney, Alan Buribayev
RTÉ LYRIC FM CD147 [72:57]
There are not that many triple concertos, at least in contemporary music. The Beethoven can hardly be considered contemporary but after that I can only think of those by Michael Tippett (1978/9), Leo Brouwer (1995) and Tomas Marco (1987). There may be a few other ones of which I am not aware.
Volans' Trio Concerto was co-commissioned by the Noord Nederlands Orchestra, the city of Groningen and the Royal Flemish Philharmonic. This pretty substantial work falls into three thematically interrelated movements of which the third is twice as long as the preceding ones. You will look in vain for the expected 'traditional' fast-slow-fast pattern. Formally the piece is considerably freer in that respect. It is a virtuoso work both for the soloists and the orchestra. The composer did not choose the all-too-obvious confrontational concerto model confronting the soloists with the orchestral mass although this does happen at times. In fact the soloists sometimes stand apart and later become part of the orchestral fabric. From the hesitant gesture at the very opening of the first movement the music unfolds following its own path. It obeys an internal logic that will eventually find its full realisation in the extended finale. This is characteristised by a cumulative energy clearly evident in the big perpetuum mobile that drives much of the final movement; I detected a shade of Ravel there. All in all, Volans' Trio Concerto is a very fine work and here receives a splendid performance. This is a live recording but one hardly notices it.
The most recent work here is the imposing Symphony: Daar kom die Alibama. The title of the work is that of a song written in 1863 in the British colony of Cape and Good Hope, by members of the Cape Malay Community, in Afrikaans. It is about the arrival of the Confederate warship, the Alabama (“Alibama” in Afrikaans), in Table Bay, Capetown. It is reported that the Alabama was in pursuit of an enemy vessel, the Sea Bride, which was defeated by the Alabama. “The victory tale soon became a folk song” (a fairly recent one incidentally). In his insert notes the composer mentions that this is no traditional symphony with themes, motifs, developments and climaxes. The music rather moves in contrasting blocks of sounds although after being repeated one can trace an inner journey throughout. The composer also insists that the Symphony is not based in any way on the original song. “While writing the piece it became for me a meditation on the sea and the role of ships and their cargoes in our history – the porcelains, textiles, spices, teas, teachers, explorers, scientists, soldiers, weapons, diseases and slaves.” As such it may be experienced as a large-scale abstract tone-poem whose various episodes vividly suggest a wide variety of moods and atmospheres. It stands as a formidable demonstration of Volans' orchestral mastery and ability to develop a structure in long paragraphs.
The Concerto for Piano and Winds is somewhat earlier and has already been recorded once (Chandos CHAN 9563) although it must be said that the earlier recording is of the original version while this one is that of the revised version of 2012. One cannot but think of Stravinsky's concerto for more or less similar forces although the musical language is inevitably different. Like Stravinsky's work, Volans' Concerto may be one of his most austere pieces though – again – the scoring is assured and confident.
This release is yet another very fine addition to RTÉ's series devoted to Irish composers of which this is the tenth instalment. Performances and recording are up to the excellent standards one has come to expect from this source. Long may it prosper.
Earlier instalments in the RTE Irish composers series