A look at what is happening in the world of the arts.

A look at what is happening in the world of the arts.

RTÉ NSO, McGonnell/Raiskin


There was a smooth, sure flow to the playing of the RTÉ NSO under the baton of Russian guest conductor Daniel Raiskin.


Opening with Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg's chorale, they turned the block-like allusions to Bach's harmonisation of Es ist genug into sweeping and spacious yet well co-ordinated statements.

With Dvorák's 7th symphony elegant pacing and phrasing took precedence over blend and balance. There was a sense too that, although nothing seemed to be holding the music back, neither would there be much risk of reckless adventure.

That said, Raiskin paid admirable attention to details of rhythm and articulation , and handled changes and inflections of tempo with prowess. These characteristics made for an urbane and thoroughly appealing performance of Mozart's clarinet concerto.

With only a slightly reduced number of players, the string sound could be a little bottom-heavy. Yet it radiated aristocratic taste, and combined with some discreet wind playing into a finely-balanced accompaniment to winning soloist Carol McGonnell.

Both she and Raiskin took licences with the score - and with charming results. Repetitions became echoes, recapitulations were glossed here and there with hints of operatic embellishment, and the slow movement's reprise was singled out for tender treatment.

And McGonnell delivered these novelties with all her accustomed colourfulness, unostentatious virtuosity, and addictive delight in the music.

Andrew Johnstone

New Ross Piano Festival

St Mary's church, New Ross

Beethoven - Moonlight Sonata

Mozart - Piano Concerto in C K415

James Wilson - Orison

Chopin - Sonata in B minor

The New Ross Piano Festival seems to be one of those local initiatives which, like the Wexford Festival, grew out of a conversational germ of "why not?", or "wouldn't it be good idea if... "

Pianist Finghin Collins was roped in as artistic director, and the opening programme of the first festival played to a packed and enthusiastic St Mary's church on Friday.

Collins hasn't engaged in any fancy or elaborate strategies. Three established Irish pianists (himself, Míceál O'Rourke and Hugh Tinney) share three full concerts over a weekend, with each programme featuring a Mozart chamber concerto in partnership with the ConTempo String Quartet; and there are also separate, shorter recitals by two younger players, Archie Chen and Michael McHale.

Hugh Tinney was the first to perform, offering a measured, finely-sculpted account of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata. It was a performance that captured well the extraordinary magic of the opening movement, and the strange pull of the central Allegretto. Only in the stormy flurries of the finale did it fail to make its mark.

Tinney also opened the second half of the programme, with the first full performance of Orison, one of the last works completed by James Wilson before his untimely death last year. This two-movement work is uneven in achievement, with the high point coming at the start, with chorale-like writing that's at once simple and oblique. It's when its surfaces are simplest that this piece works best.

Collins was the first to join the ConTempos, for a performance of the Concerto in C, K415. Collins's approach to Mozart was full of youthful exuberance and straightforward lyricism. The piano quintet approach to these concertos is currently quite popular. But, even with a group like the ConTempos, who are willing to acknowledge the orchestral origins with sensitivity, the outcome is rarely fully satisfying. The binding provided by the absent instruments is always missed.

Míceál O'Rourke rounded the evening off with a muted and reserved account of Chopin's Sonata in B minor. The playing was not always the tidiest in detail, but the focus was always clear.

Michael Dervan

Duke Special

The Sugar Club, Dublin

With a blast of horns and colossal drumbeats, Duke Special (aka Peter Wilson) and band took to the stage at The Sugar Club, Dublin, on Friday. A gramophone, a bashed-up radio, a piano and a strange contraption made from a bell and what looked like a frying pan set the scene for this quirky musical show.

Wilson sat at the piano, his trademark dreadlocks draped in front of his eyes. The band - a motley crew - were all in suits. The bassist wore a marine cap, the clarinettist wore oversized black glasses and the guitarist used a violin bow.

On tour to celebrate the launch of Songs from the Deep Forest, Wilson has been compared to The Divine Comedy, Rufus Wainwright and a bit of everything in between. Most prominent, however, is the mischievousness in his music, and this was brought out in full during Friday's show.

Playing a range of tracks from the new album, Duke Special entertained with various tricks and musical oddities. Tuning in an old radio, its crackling sound wafting across the audience, Wilson sang about giving up his liver. Later, the drummer, Chip Bailey, took a whisk and grater, which he played with great vehemence to produce a rough, metallic sound. Behind all the theatrics, however, there is an honesty to Duke Special.

Grandiose vocals often have candid lyrics: "Belfast leave me alone". You're never quite sure what will come next. A cheery clarinet solo will be punctuated by menacing drumbeats, Madness-type piano chords or sombre lyrics: "I can't change, it's the same old me".

Highlights were Freewheel and This could be my last day and a new song called Quiet Revolutionaries played during the encore. A breezy, upbeat cover of The Doors When You're Strange made for a fitting end to this dynamic and humorous performance.

Sorcha Hamilton

Guy Barker

JJ Smyth's

Jazz aficionados came expecting excitement on Friday for the first of two concerts by British trumpeter Guy Barker, supported by Hugh Buckley (guitar), Michael Buckley (tenor), Dave Redmond (bass) and Kevin Brady. They weren't disappointed.

A grippingly virtuosic, unaccompanied opening trumpet cadenza was like a clarion call that stunned the audience into silence and must have made it clear to the rest of the musicians that this was going to be a take-no-prisoners occasion. As he segued into a blues, accompanied only by bass, and then launched the quintet into a blistering cavalry charge on Thelonious Monk's Well You Needn't, it was equally obvious he was going to get the kind of reaction he expected.

And that was the way the concert developed. In effect it was a jam session, with all the excitement, occasional brilliance, sometime exhibitionism and rough edges generally associated with such situations. There were fine responses from Hugh Buckley and the rhythm section, with Dave Redmond especially catching the ear for some outstanding bass work, while Michael Buckley was in outstanding form.

Unfazed by either the competition or the uptempo demands of the music, he turned out a series of remarkably inventive, strikingly well-developed solos that never succumbed to exhibitionism.

As for the leader, Barker remains an exceptional instrumentalist. Big tone, huge range, power, incredibly agile articulation regardless of how fast the tempo, a repertoire of smears, vocalisations and expressive devices that must be the envy of all brassmen - Barker has it all.

For most of the night, however, as he chose to deploy his full range of devices, the cumulative effect was not as satisfying musically as it might have been. He is capable of considerable lyricism and restraint, revealing a gentle, melodic sense on the ballad You Don't Know What Love Is and on a medium slow Lullaby Of The Leaves, but much of the time ebullience and virtuosity took over. Nevertheless, it would be a brave musician who would dare to challenge him on his own trumpet. And he stamped his personality clearly on the night's music.

Ray Comiskey

Yuuko Shiokawa (violin), Miklós Perényi (cello), András Schiff (piano)


Martin Adams

Haydn - Piano Trios in E Hob XV:28, A flat Hob XV:14, C Hob XV:27

Beethoven - Piano Trio in B flat Op 97 (Archduke)

If you like chamber music to be elevated and serious you'd have loved this. Not that there was any lack of humour in this remarkable recital, the second of three in the András Schiff chamber music weekend.

It was just that humour was not of the visible kind. It did not need to be as pianist Schiff, violinist Yuuko Shiokawa and cellist Miklós Perényi were far less interested in one another than in music of extraordinarily subtle power. They were not ignoring the audience either but they had not an iota of interest in playing to the gallery.

Appearance was entirely congruent with the playing. The combination of no showmanship, three of Haydn's most original and highbrow piano trios, and playing of consummate musical intelligence drew one into an unusually intensive experience - riveting and uplifting.

Into his piano trios Haydn put some of his most original thinking and, at least as much as in his string quartets, rewrote concepts of chamber music. The trios on this programme were written for specific English amateur players - cognoscenti of the highest kind; which is what the musicians in this concert proved themselves to be.

The command of detail, of colours that were sometimes astonishing in their variety and always apt to the distinctive sound of Schiff's own Bösendorfer piano, and the characterisation of phrases - all was sustained as a single concept by a control of metre that was sustained yet very flexible.

After the inner intensity of the Haydn, Beethoven's "Archduke" trio was almost a relief. Strange but true. Some might like their Beethoven to be more heroic but this performance's middle-European mode of understated expression, and steady, almost- protracted tempi was so profound that one forgot this inherited concept of how Beethoven ought to go.

Ray Comiskey