Alison Browner (mezzo-soprano)/ NSO/Colman Pearce


Grabstein fur Stephan (1989) - Gyorgy Kurtag

North (1997) - Kevin O'Connell

From the besieged city (19881989) - Kevin O'Connell

The Way of Castle Yonder, Op.21a (19881990) - Oliver Knussen

In the second concert of the Horizons Series of contemporary music, the focus was on Kevin O'Connell. The titles of his two orchestral works have a special resonance for him as he was born and educated in Derry.

From a besieged city, the earlier of the two, sets a poem by Zbigniew Herbert which views the war-torn plight of Eastern European countries through an oriental distorting mirror. The text gave the composer the required sense of distance; it could refer to China or Poland or the North of Ireland, or to none of these.

O'Connell has chosen to preserve the monotony of Herbert's imaginary chronicler in a sort of musical reportage, an unemotional recitative in which, as in a message on a faulty telephone line, not all the information is conveyed. Alison Browner (mezzo-soprano) - it was left to the NSO and Colman Pearce to supply the sense of terrible events taking place, in orchestral interludes which supplied the dynamic tensions lacking in the recitative.

North, in spite of its title, had no discernible political relevance. In two movements, the first Lento, the second a slow Allegro, the composer played with aspects and developments of various themes in a manner that contrived to look backward and forward at the same time.

The two works O'Connell chose to frame his own in Tuesday's concert in the NCH were Kurtag's Grabstein fur Stephan and Knussen's The Way of Castle Yonder. The Grabstein is an extraordinary work in which silence is slowly broken to be completely shattered by a raucous outburst after which silence returns. One has never been so conscious of the noise of the air conditioning, of the rustle of clothes, or the creak of seats. It rather took away from the effect.

The way to Castle Yonder shows the smiling face of contemporary music. It may not aim high, but it hits the target in the centre.