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  • Reviews: Scharoun Ensemble – Imma, Dublin

    November 11, 2008 @ 11:22 am | by Fiona McCann

    Mozart – Horn Quintet K417.

    Weber – Clarinet Quintet.

    Schubert – Octet.

    The Association of Music Lovers (AML), which began life 41 years ago as the Limerick Music Association (LMA), is behind many of the finest chamber music concerts in Dublin. This one was no exception from the usual high quality. The performers were eight members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra whose collective title, the Scharoun Ensemble, honours Hans Scharoun, the architect of the orchestra’s celebrated Berlin concert hall.

    The ensemble has long-standing connections with the LMA/AML. Its precursor, the Berlin Philharmonic Octet, gave the LMA’s first concert in 1967, and several return visits have included the association’s memorable 40th anniversary concert in April last year.

    This performance in the Great Hall of the Royal Hospital Kilmainham included two works from the 1967 inaugural programme, Mozart’s Horn Quintet and Schubert’s Octet. The addition of Weber’s Clarinet Quintet made for an uncommonly satisfying afternoon’s listening.

    Coordination was, when necessary, managed through the delicate signalling of first violinist Wolfram Brandl. For the most part, however, the playing was as if guided by democratic instincts, each player taking his turn as primus inter pares as required.

    Thus neither the horn player, Stefan de Leval Jezierski, nor the clarinettist, Alexander Bader, availed of the extra bow merited by their superb soloistic contributions to the two quintets.

    A more fulfilling live performance of either piece would be hard to imagine, except perhaps that Jezierski’s infallible and characterful tones might have been directed a little more towards the audience.

    The keystone of the Scharoun Ensemble’s repertoire remains the Octet by Schubert, which they finally released on disc three years ago. Every moment offered something to savour, be it flexible and subtly foregrounded melody, uncommonly well-focused harmony or pristine tonal matching. And with most of the repeat marks observed, the six extensive movements ran to just over an hour of absolute pleasure. ANDREW JOHNSTONE

  • Reviews: Kitt, Medjimorec – Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin

    @ 11:21 am | by Fiona McCann

    Schumann – Märchenbilder. Anthony Payne – Out of the

    Depths Comes Song. Prokofiev – Sonata Op 119.

    English composer Anthony Payne (born 1936) enjoys the mixed blessing of attaining his greatest public attention through someone else’s music. In 1998 his elaboration on Elgar’s deathbed sketches for a third symphony was a major popular success, with Payne earning a degree of exposure that would have been hard to predict on the basis of his previous work.

    Foremost among the impressive features of his Elgar completion were his mastery of large orchestral forces and his ability to sustain the continuous presence of Elgar’s voice. So it was interesting to hear Out of the Depths Comes Song , a 10-minute piece for cello and piano which is Payne writing in his own voice. It was the world premiere.

    The dedicatee – Austrian cellist Florian Kitt – explained in a brief introduction that the piece has a rather romantic, impressionist surface which belies the complex string textures the cellist must work through. The structure is in mirror form, possibly involving retrograde lines (if I understood correctly) and certainly seeing the “song”, having risen from “out of the depths”, going back to them at the end.

    Kitt, who has a special interest in contemporary music, brought to the Payne piece an element of animation and intensity that had been missing in his earlier quite bland account of Schumann’s child-inspired Märchenbilder . Also contributing to a shortage of expressivity in the Schumann was pianist Rita Medjimorec whose velvet touch was simply too universally applied.

    Velvet was perhaps also the wrong approach for the Prokofiev Sonata, which seemed to me to be missing the bite that is part of its make-up. And although the duo’s best moments were in this piece – including some nice lyrical touches – it mostly felt as though there was a much better piece trapped inside, raring to get out. MICHAEL DUNGAN

  • Reviews: Goldfrapp

    November 10, 2008 @ 10:18 am | by Fiona McCann

    Over the course of four albums, Goldfrapp have nailed the seemingly impossible task of making fantastically catchy yet mysteriously complex pop music. Comparing the English duo’s live show to a football match might, at first, seem like a strange analogy.

    The band’s display in Tripod, however, had many ingredients that resembled a hard fought encounter between two teams, in this case the audience and the performer. The show had two distinct halves; the first was a subdued game of cat and mouse with each side reluctant to give anything away while the second half was far more open and entertaining.

    The reason for this unusual sate of affairs stemmed from the actions of Alison Goldfrapp. Dressed in a revealing pink silk costume with a six-piece band (minus co-member Will Gregory), all in matching white, the singer was a picture of self-assured yet detached grace.

    A couple of songs into the set, she brusquely requested that fans abstain from using flash photography. In Liverpool, a week earlier, Goldfrapp had stormed off stage due to this same request being ignored. Bristles of tension were palpable in the audience’s reaction and it created a frosty atmosphere that took time to thaw. Musically, the band never put a foot wrong. Utopia allowed Goldfrapp to show off her spectacular voice, and the spiky string arrangement of You Never Know was dazzling if not rousing.

    Little Bird provided the breakthrough that brought proceedings to life. Allowing the musicians to flex their muscles, the swirling psychedelic folk tune triggered the dancing feet of the audience.

    Following this with the electro-glam of Number 1 and candy-pop Happiness ensured everyone remained on-side. Even Goldfrapp finally appeared to be loosening out, as she tossed out compliments and lapped up the crowd’s responses.

    With the squelchy synths of Train giving way to Goldfrapp’s possessed theremin playing the show had turned from a jittery competitive fixture to a full-on friendly.

    Proving that it takes more than just great songs to make an excellent gig, and having delivered hits for a full 90 minutes, the band and fans parted in a wave of mutual adulation. BRIAN KEANE

  • Reviews: Kempf, RTÉ NSO/Valade

    @ 10:18 am | by Fiona McCann

    Henri Dutilleux — Métaboles. Ravel — Piano Concerto in G. Franck — Symphony in D minor.

    Henri Dutilleux’s Métaboles , commissioned for the 40th anniversary of the Cleveland Orchestra and premiered under George Szell in January 1965, has kept a very respectable presence both on disc and in the concert hall. Its return is like the arrival of an old friend who always has something new to say.

    Dutilleux, who turned 90 two years ago, is a fastidious craftsman, and the polished detail of his orchestration is always a pleasure.

    What was in his mind in writing Métaboles , he has said, was “the mysterious, fascinating world of everlasting change”.

    That change is carried through not only with a sure sense of organic development but also with a satisfying ultimate resolution.

    Pierre-André Valade’s performance with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra on Friday was sure-footed in pacing though not always as tidy in detail as one would have wished.

    Valade took a fairly direct approach to César Franck’s symphony in D minor, a work that treads a dangerously fine line between the hypnotic focus of an orator who knows how to stay focused on the essential message and the repetitive emphasis of a speaker who doesn’t know how to get meaningfully beyond the core point.

    Valade’s clear-headedness did not fully avoid an effect of going around in circles, and the music-making was hampered by a lack of dynamic variety in climaxes, which effectively created a ceiling above which the music could not rise.

    The high point of this performance was the finely taken cor anglais solo in the second movement.

    Freddy Kempf was the agreeably energised soloist in Ravel’s piano concerto in G. He relished the music’s jazzy snap and bluesy inflections, and generated a gorgeously calm raptness for the long solo that opens the slow movement. MICHAEL DERVAN

  • Reviews: Ryan Adams and The Cardinals

    @ 10:14 am | by Fiona McCann

    The wild child of rock is now in his 30s and he appears to have entered a new era of stability.

    Tonight there was little of the shambolic self-indulgence that had become a feature of a Ryan Adams gig. Instead, Adams was focused and together, delivering a blistering two-hour set. This was Adams at the peak of his powers with backing band The Cardinals acting as the perfect foil for his talents.

    Inevitably, much of the set was devoted to tracks from the impressive new album Cardinology , in which a re-invigorated Adams fuses his alt country roots with some driving rock. It blends elements from the likes of Neil Young, U2 and The Grateful Dead.

    The wunderkind must be slowing up. Cardinology is only his first album in 18 months; this from a highly prolific performer who delivered no less than three albums in 2004. In truth, Adams has probably still to deliver on the potential he showed on his breakthrough Heartbreaker album in 2000. His drug problems and other demons have often overshadowed his talent.

    But tonight, it is clear that sobriety and Ryan Adams are comfortable bedfellows.

    Fix It , the stand out track from the new album, features a searing Wilco-style guitar, while Cobwebs showcases Adams’s great vocal range. Adams also treats us to his eerie, countrified version of Oasis’ Wonderwall . After hearing the version, the Gallaghers once observed that Ryan Adams now owns the song; on stage it was a real highlight. There was no shortage of others as Adams rolled out songs from his back pages including familiar favourites like When The Stars go Blue and La Cinega just Smiled .

    There was none of the usual tantrums and grandstanding from Adams. Instead, the whole gig had a warm glow as Adams and The Cardinals settled into what they used to call a comfortable groove.

    Adams performed half a dozen songs during a long encore. His voice was at its most fragile and haunting on Stop , his song about sickness and recovery.

    The new album, which has soared into the US charts, is expected to be Adams’ last on Lost Highway records. It may be that part one of his brilliant careers is over. Apparently, he favours a change of direction – more rock and less alt country.

    There is every reason to be excited by the prospect. Ryan Adams may be cleaned up and chilled out, but he is a bona fide rock star. This gig throbbed with great vocals and great playing. Adams is back on track. SEAN FLYNN

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