Sometimes there’s no need to blow your own trumpet

Publicity can be misleading, as in the case of a fine trumpeter

What Tuesday’s concert showed was that Niall O’Sullivan’s playing is in an altogether higher league than his publicity.

What Tuesday’s concert showed was that Niall O’Sullivan’s playing is in an altogether higher league than his publicity.


Sometimes you just don’t know what to expect. Take the Irish trumpeter Niall O’Sullivan, who appeared as soloist at the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra’s Tuesday lunchtime concert last week. “Since the release of his self- titled debut album in 2011,” says his website, “Irish trumpeter Niall O’Sullivan has firmly established himself as an accomplished performer in the classical and easy listening genres of music. His album of classical works, jazz standards, contemporary pop and traditional Irish songs entered the Classical iTunes chart at number one.”

What Tuesday’s concert showed was that O’Sullivan’s playing is in a high league. * The highlight in his programme was the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, where he showed himself to be a musically nimble trumpeter with a crisp tone and a welcome ease in using his instrument in a conversational rather than a domineering manner.

If Handel’s Suite in D was less impressive, this was as much a matter of the music as of the playing. Surprisingly, the arrangements of Schubert’s Ave Maria (one of the sickliest I’ve heard in a long, long time) and Piazzolla’s Libertango, though much more showy, were less impressive, although the audience enjoyed them thoroughly, and the jazzy flourishes added to the Piazzolla brought them to their feet. The conductor Andrew Mogrelia secured an enjoyably neat and tidy style of orchestral playing.
On a different note
The Hilltown New Music Festival has been held at the rear of Hilltown House near Castlepollard in Co Westmeath since 2008. It’s a low-key affair, and on my way there for the first time last weekend, I didn’t spot a single sign or poster on the way through the town.

It’s also very laid-back. I arrived in time for a 4.30pm concert which, I soon found out, wasn’t expected to start until close on 5pm. By the time of the day’s last concert, the 9pm start was off by nearly an hour. If the aim is to create an experience of immersion, the unpredictability of the starting times certainly added to the effect.

An al-fresco meal was included in the evening ticket price, and on Saturday, with glorious sun and high temperatures, the air was that of an outdoor party with periodic indoor retreats for the actual music, and multimedia installations for anyone who wanted sounds to savour in between the actual events.

Indoors, I was reliably informed, was not a description that had always applied at Hilltown. The concerts take place in a barn. It’s corrugated on three sides, the other being a wooden wall with multiple doors. Before the wall was added, the concerts took place with that long side open to the elements. Given what recent summers have been like, the situation for performers and listeners doesn’t really bear thinking about.

The musical stance of the festival is equally open, all-embracing and experimental, with Irish and international calls for scores, improvised sound performances and music theatre. The concerts I attended included works for voice, cello and keyboard, a solo violin recital, a substantial piece for solo voice, and a harpsichord recital including electronics.

The call for scores yielded Derek Ball’s Aifreann Krishnamurphy for soprano, chamber organ and cello, setting an Irish language parody Mass by Gabriel Rosenstock, with obligatory audience participation – standing, kneeling, sitting on cue, just as in a Mass proper.

The idea is as black as you can get, with a communal Happy Birthday to You for Rabelais and the litany of implorations addressed to Big Bear, Black Elk, and Geronimo among others. Soprano Elizabeth Hilliard was the Bansagart, garbed in a silver-backed picnic rug, as detached in manner as many a celebrant, and with the music itself playing very much a background role to the ritual.

Hilliard also undertook Christopher Fox’s extremely demanding Catalogue Irraisoné, a substantial, wordy, multilingual piece related to his evening-long “installation piece” Everything You Need to Know. Hilliard is the first person to single- handedly take on this series of vocally virtuosic introductions to everything and anything. It’s what you might call a gob-stopper of an undertaking, which stretched Hilliard and her virtuosity to their limits, and sometimes beyond.

German violinist Barbara Lüneburg paired the ghostly Paganini echoes of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Capricci of 1976 with the monumentality of Bach’s Partita in D minor, sounding more at ease with the scampering of the Sciarrino than with the certainties of the Bach. Harpsichordist Yonit Kosovske presented a very personal recital – lots of direct connections with the chosen composers – which ended up with Ailís Ní Ríain’s 2 Steep 4 Sheep, wittily focusing on the possibility of deducing stress in sheep from the sound of their bleating.

Martin Baker, master of music at London’s Westminster Cathedral, was at St Michael’s Church, Dún Laoghaire, on Sunday for a performance of Bach’s great Art of Fugue – well, not the complete piece, but the bulk of it – with the unfinished Fuga a 3 soggetti done in a completion by Michael Ferguson.

It was the second not quite complete Art of Fugue I’ve heard this year, following on Angela Hewitt’s piano account at the KBC Great Music in Irish Houses festival in June. Baker’s was a heavy-duty account, full-on and rather airless, as this daunting music can be on the organ. Hugely impressive, if a little indigestible at times.

* This article was amended on Wednesday, August 14th. 2013

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