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Terrible beauty DIACD034
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A Terrible Beauty
Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble
rec. 2018-2020, SARC Belfast, Northern Ireland
DIATRIBE DIACD034 [2 CDs: 120.16]

Northern Ireland’s Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble was founded almost 10 years ago; this is their debut album. They specialise in contemporary music and in this recording they have presented twelve new works by Irish composers. Most of these works were wholly or partly commissioned by the Ensemble. The founder and artistic Director of the Ensemble is the distinguished composer, Greg Caffrey, two of whose works feature here.

The title of the recording, ‘A Terrible Beauty’ comes from W B Yeats’ poem Easter 1916 in which the poet describes his emotional response to the Easter Rising and its aftermath. It is also the title of the work by Greg Caffery in the first disc. Each of the three movements in this work were inspired by Yeats’ poetry. The first movement starts in the depths of the piano and is a highly atmospheric depiction of loss and sadness. The second movement was inspired by Yeats’ poem The Second Coming and the Ensemble do an excellent job conjuring up the visceral anarchic quality of the piece with the apocalyptic beast seemingly slouching towards Bethlehem in the final part of the movement. The third movement is based on Yeats’ The Lake Isle of Innisfree and it is a little more unsettling than I was expecting, although it moves to a tranquil resolution.

Caffrey’s second work on the recording, ‘Three Movements on the work of William Scott’ were all influenced by the Northern Irish painter. The Ensemble realise the abstract quality of Scott’s paintings and convey an elusive, nuanced emotional response to these works.

I enjoyed John Buckley’s ‘Three Mobiles After Alexander Calder’ which were inspired by Calder’s kinetic sculptures. There is excellent interplay between Sarah Watts on the clarinet, Daniel Browell on the piano, Joanne Quigley McPartland on the violin and David McCann on the cello. The players capture well the playful quality of the first movement and the rhythmic vitality of the third.

Kevin O’Connell’s ‘A Batutta’ is a concertino for clarinet and ensemble and it is a tremendously engaging work. There are elements of jazz, grotesque fantasy and music hall that remind me a little of Shostakovich. Simon Mawhinney’s ‘Zeddy Dance’ was inspired by the composer’s infant daughter dancing and it imaginatively depicts the jerky movements and energy of the child.

Frank Corcoran’s ‘Nine Looks at Pierrot’ is a collection of instrumental miniatures which look at different aspects of Pierrot’s soul. The Ensemble do well in conveying significant variation in expression between the movements, from the playful number 4, to the chaotic number 5, before the piece reaches its climax in the apocalyptic ninth piece. Rhona Clarke’s ‘Non-Stop’ is a fast paced and visceral work; the rhythms have an infectious foot tapping quality.

Jane O’Leary’s ‘Beneath the Dark Blue Waves’ was written with Gwen O’Dowd’s abstract sea paintings in mind. The Ensemble conjure the idea of light glinting on the waves in the first movement while the second is more ominous and unsettling, taking us down into the depths. Ryan Molloy’s Gortnagarn II reflects on our connection with the landscape and the Ensemble do an excellent job in capturing the meditative quality of the work.

Ann Rooney’s Phosphenes depicts the sensation of a spot of light produced by pressure on the eyeball. The Ensemble conjure up well the luminosity of the opening and they artfully play with the subsequent perceptions of light in the piece. Grainne’s Mulvey’s LUCA offers a portrait of the single cell organism from which all light is thought to stem. The Ensemble successfully realise the unusual sound world required for this piece. Iain McCurdy’s ‘Found Sounds Lost’ is informed by the Sound of the Albert Memorial Clock in Belfast. The spectral fragments which make up the piece come together well to suggest the lost bell sound of the title.

Overall, this is a very impressive first recording from the Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble, showcasing the wealth of musical talent which currently exists across Ireland.

Robert Beattie

Jane O’LEARY (b.1946)
Beneath the Dark Blue Waves (2019) [12.01]
Amy ROONEY (b.1983)
Phosphenes (2019) [5.42]
John BUCKLEY (b. 1951)
Three Mobiles After Alexander Calder (2019) [9.45]
Frank CORCORAN (b. 1944)
Nine Looks at Pierrot (2013) [7.19]
Greg CAFFREY (b. 1963)
A Terrible Beauty (2013-2019) [20.44]
Iain MCCURDY (b. 1972)
Found Sounds Lost (2016) [6.36]
Grainne MULVEY (b. 1966)
LUCA (2017) [12.02]
Kevin O’CONNELL (b. 1958)
A Batutta (2018) [10.35]
Greg CAFFREY (b. 1963)
Three Movements on the Work of William Scott (2017) [8.24]
Simon MAWHINNEY (b. 1976)
The Zeddy Dance (2016) [7.14]
Ryan MOLLOY (b. 1983)
Gortnagarn II (2016) [10.43]
Rhona CLAKE (b. 1958)
Non-Stop (2020) [8.59]

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