Irish Youth Chamber Choir/Beardsell


Dublin City Gallery, the Hugh Lane

James MacMillan – Data est mihi omnis potestas. Greg Scanlon – Beannachtaí an Mháthair. Pawel Lukaszewski – Ave Maria. Eric Whitacre – When David Heard. James MacMillan – A Child’s Prayer. Greg Scanlon – The Blackbird. Hogan – Battle of Jericho.

This was the inaugural concert of a new chamber choir selected from within the ranks of the 100-voice Irish Youth Choir. The new choir will perform around Ireland between now and April, providing a valuable boost in public profile to the parent choir that, since its foundation 30 years ago in 1982, has generally confined its activities to one week every summer.

The choir is conducted by IYC director Greg Beardsell, who is also director of the Ulster Youth Choir, the National Youth Choirs of Great Britain, and of vocal projects for the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. To reach out to the public on this tour, Beardsell has loaded his a cappella programme with the kind of contemporary choral music currently most in vogue: slow and contemplative, harmonically rich with clustered chords and scrunchy, warm dissonances.

The composer most closely associated with the style is Eric Whitacre, aptly summed up by Beardsell as “the superstar of American choral music”. The choir gave a nicely controlled account of his When David heard, and likewise of pieces of similar mood and texture by James MacMillan (who also writes choral music in other styles) and by Pawel Lukaszewski (his Ave Maria).

Not quite different enough to represent contrast were two three-minute pieces by the Waterford composer Greg Scanlon. His The Blackbirdimagines the meeker emotions of Irish tenants under bad landlords, while Beannachtaí an Mháthair– or “the mother’s greeting”, receiving its first performance – is a lullaby, a song-type well suited to the programme’s prevailing style.

That said, Beardsell allowed a surprisingly strong, big-boned performance for a lullaby, and there were sometimes insecurities of tuning on important notes in the inner parts, as also in the MacMillan and Lukaszewski.

For a new choir, limited in rehearsal time and unused to each other, its best features were the fresh quality of its voices, the interest evident in performance, and its commitment to its director. These were all exemplified in the final piece, the rollicking Battle of Jerichoby the late Moses Hogan.