SoundSet Strings

St Ann’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin.

St Ann’s Church, Dawson Street, Dublin.

Kevin Volans – White Man Sleeps. Benedict Schlepper-Connolly – Star. Emma O’Halloran – As Dusk Descends. Enda Bates – From the Cusp of Sleep. Schoenberg – Verklärte Nacht.

THIS CONCERT for string ensemble presented music with the thematic backdrop of evening, and so was aptly subtitled Transfigured Night (“Verklärte Nacht”) after the Schoenberg sextet that concluded the programme.

In fact, the eponymous piece was the odd one out in a couple of ways. First, and despite being by the composer who ultimately crashed the bounds of tonality and went on to father serialism, Verklärte Nacht is such early Schoenberg (1889) that its sound is luxurious and late romantic.


And it was the demands of this style that occasioned the second, less felicitous distinction, namely a tendency for tuning lapses – eventually too numerous to ignore – that disrupted Schoenberg’s harmonic vision and nullified the passionate commitment of the players.

The year-old SoundSet Strings ensemble also suffered from (slighter) tuning issues in the bass part of Benedict Schlepper- Connolly’s duo Star, and from what sounded like a lack of conceptual confidence in the deceptively-tagged “new simplicity” of Kevin Volans’s 1986 String Quartet No 1, White Man Sleeps, though cellist Jenny Dowdall gave a star-turn in her third movement solo.

Happily, the ensemble saved its best playing for the night’s two world premieres.

The first was by SoundSet Strings artistic co-director Emma O’Halloran. Only the title, As Dusk Descends, gave any hint of the provenance of this quartet, whose judicious writing for double bass, instead of second violin, provided added richness in music that featured drama and contrast in well-measured balance.

There was a delightful directness in the programmatic fidelity of Enda Bates’s From the Cusp of Sleep for string quintet – quartet plus double bass.

In his introductory note, Bates describes how trying to sleep can be frustrated by random trains of thought – then his nine-minute contemporary chamber tone-poem charmingly and credibly depicted the same in music.