Dave Flynn: Irish Minimalism – A mixed engagement with the tradition

Flynn’s takes on the Irish tradition can come across as rather too emblematic

Dave Flynn Irish Minimalism
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Artist: Breanndán Begley, Mick O’Brien, ConTempo Quartet, IMO Quartet
Label: First Hand Records FHR116

Composer Dave Flynn has the courage of his convictions. In “Looking for the Irish Bartók”, a provocative 2005 article for The Journal of Music in Ireland, he argued that engagement with traditional music was crucial for Irish composers. And he proposed Kevin Volans’s African-influenced work as a way forward.

The titles of the well-performed works on his new recording, all recorded in 2012, show him willing to practise what he preaches.The Cranning (2004-5) and The Keening (2007) are for string quartet. The Cutting (2008, revised 2020) is for uilleann pipes and string quartet. And Stories from the Old World (2008) adds Peig Sayers spoken and sung in Irish to uilleann pipes and string quartet.

Bartók, of course, was a composer of genius, whose output forms part of the international concert repertoire. Flynn’s reflections, refractions and imitations of the sounds and gestures of the Irish tradition can come across as rather too emblematic. It’s the earliest work, The Cranning, that seems to show him closest to the kind of musical integration he seems to be after. And the use of Irish in Stories from the Old World will surely limit that work’s currency just as Hungarian has limited the songs of Bartók.

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor