All credit to Naxos for recording at bargain price a new work and one which
is tuneful, with some lasting fibre and instantly accessible.
Robert Lambs music is not desperately original in its style and accents.
The language has elements of Walton, Tippett and perhaps Peter Maxwell Davies.
To my shame I had never heard of Lamb before this recording was issued. He
was born in Cork in 1931 and is a well-known trombonist in Eire and in the
UK, especially in the jazz world. By the way there are no obvious jazz influences
in the Lamb work.
The whole genre of melodrama I find extremely attractive. There is something
potent about clearly spoken words over a rich orchestral canvas. I am a great
admirer of Blisss Morning Heroes, RVWs Oxford Elegy, Fibichs
Hippodamia trilogy, Coplands Lincoln Portrait and a number of other
works of this type.
This is not the first time the tragic Lir legend has attracted composers.
Hamilton Hartys 1940 tone poem with vocalising soprano (Heather Harper)
exists for everyone to discover on Chandos - a bejewelled work which suffers
only by comparison with its coupling, the ineffable Harty setting of Ode
to a Nightingale. More recently the David Cassidy setting complete with
a male narrator, full orchestra and gigantic chorus was broadcast on TV.
This used a strange mix of massive Handelian-style choruses given a suitable
Eireannachd edge by the now ubiquitous uillean pipes (trendy since River
Dance and the markedly superior Granuaile!). This too is very effective but
so different from the much more impressionist twentieth century score of
The story recounts how King Lir has four children (three boys and a girl)
by Eva. When Eva dies Lir is persuaded by his father in law to marry Eves
sister Eva. Eva uses her great beauty and sensuality to win the Kings
heart. For a while they are contentedly happy. Then jealousy enters Evas
heart. She sees the three children as an obstacle between herself and Lir
and using her magic powers turns them into swans for 900 years. Lir is revenged
on Eva. After many trials the swan children are transformed back to humanity
as Christianity comes to Ireland but, now 900 years old, they are hideously
withered and quickly die after they are baptised.
The score is touching and almost filmic in its vivid portrayal of incident
and emotion. The great swelling melody which accompanies Evas sensual
dance rises ecstatically to a great climax and Lir is then completely enthralled
by Eva. A great part of the magic of this large-scale score is down to Fiona
Shaws impassioned performance. Often quiet, she has great reserves
of communicable emotion and these are used to grand histrionic effect. Not
for Ms Shaw great howling and shouting; her whispers can be just as devastating.
She gives a very fine performance. I rather hope that she was with the orchestra
when the recording was made rather than dubbing her voice onto a pre-recorded
track. Whatever the process the end-result is extremely affecting. Not
earth-shattering music-making but certainly a work with a high mountain range
of emotion. A satisfying companion for a long car journey.
HELP! Years ago I recall seeing an LP of someones setting of the Lir
Legend. It was some time in the 1960s. Does anyone remember the LP or can
anyone tell me who the composer was. I always wished I had bought that secondhand
LP just for curiosity. This was definitely not the Harty work.