Irish Timeswriters review a selection of events

Ensemble Scratch the Surface

Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin

Scratch the Surface is a contemporary music ensemble founded in 2006. The programming for its recent Music Network tour was based on the premise that the old boundaries which once designated sounds as either musical or non-musical no longer exist.

It's a concept that generally remains newer to audiences than it does to composers, who were already dabbling with it early in the last century. The audience at this concert was engaged by it, even by the most extreme example, Claudia Kappenberg's Upon the Place Beneath. Six movement artists stood gracefully moving their arms, silently at first, until they began to release beads from their hands which poured down on to various resonant objects and created a random interplay of sounds. Everyone seemed gripped - it looked beautiful, sounded interesting, we wondered what it might mean.

The other works in the programme were closer to the familiar orthodoxy in that they required musical instruments. The full ensemble of clarinet, violin, viola, double bass and percussion played thoughtful pieces by Linda Buckley - her Nikuda (Nowhere)opens and closes with a busy, funky pulse that goes into hiding but remains implicit when the scoring pares down to a single voice - and by Claudia Molitor, whose Between the Markstakes something lyrical and distorts and reshapes it, mirroring what happens after a painter's first brushstroke on a new canvas.

In Jean Martin's Viola Pulse, what once were agreed to be non-musical sounds (for example, rubs and scratches) were created on viola, recorded and electronically manipulated to form one half (on tape) of a duo, the other half being the viola soloist, ensemble director Conall Gleeson, playing live. Not a new idea, but intriguingly conceived and executed here. Also combining tape and live instruments was Donnacha Dennehy's Glamour Sleeper, in its urban accent growing to a great wall of industrial sound.

For sheer entertainment the concert's best piece was Roderik de Man's four-minute Case History, a sparkling solo for energetic percussionist Joel Farland, who rapped, tapped and shouted through a piece played entirely on his aluminium mallet case. - MICHAEL DUNGAN


NCH, Dublin

In Dublin, and perhaps elsewhere, nobody produces the Gilbert and Sullivan canon as splendidly as the Rathmines and Rathgar Musical Society. A sweeping endorsement, of course, but the evidence is to hand in the version of Iolanthe now gracing the NCH stage. It is altogether delicious.

The potty plot soon turns into a satire on the British House of Lords, overlapped with an amusing foray into the battle of the sexes. Iolanthe (Rachel Kelly) was banished 25 years ago for marrying a mortal, and has an understandably mixed-up son Strephon (John-Owen Miley-Read, a special bass). He yearns for a mortal too, but his Phyllis (Sarah Guilmartin) is admired and courted by numerous peers. She sees him in Iolanthe's arms and jumps to a wrong conclusion, since fairies don't age.

It's all a merry mess, sustained by the liveliest of musical scores and a clever script. The action is studded with melodies and comic set-pieces tumbling over each other.

Phyllis and Strephon sing of their love in None Shall Part Us From Each Other, and the Fairy Queen (Jackie Curran-Olohan) makes an early appearance, signalling a weakness for romance. Later she ups the ante when Private Willis (Benjamin Russell), a palace sentry, comes on to be told, in low tones of undisguised lust, "You are a very fine fellow".

The Lord Chancellor (Adam Lawlor) steals the show more than once, in the number When I Went to the Barand others. He joins the two pixillated peers Lords Tolloller and Mountararat (Brian Gilligan and Michael Clark) in the hilarious If You Go In You're Sure To Win, and is given a solo spot for curtain applause. But the entire cast deserve their ovations, served up in unstinted measure. - GERRY COLGAN

• Runs to Nov 22