Reviews

 

Music reviews by Irish Timesreviewers.

Crash Ensemble shindig (Fri), SS Michael and John Church, Dublin

New music's Crash Ensemble opened two days of 10-year birthday celebrations with an all-Irish concert on Friday night in the converted SS Michael and John Church in Temple Bar.

The programme was dominated by compositions which seemed, in the same manner as John Cage's famous silent piece 4' 33", to ask questions about how we listen. For example, Garrett Sholdice's work for solo violin, For Benedict Schlepper- Connolly, defied listeners looking out for anything obviously melodic or developmental. Instead, a single note persisted for 10 minutes, repeated continuously within an ostinato, becoming the root of a range of intervals including octaves and compound intervals, many of them consonant, some involving harmonics and other technical trickery.

There were glimpses of pattern, of development, but the way you listened may have dictated whether or not you figured them out (and I'm not claiming I did).

Is our listening impaired when music is accompanied by something visual, even just abstract video? I wondered this during pieces for tape with video by Jonathan Nangle, Fergus Kelly and Roger Doyle. You had to listen hard to reconcile Nangle's busy-sounding cocktail of sine tones, sampled guitar, and live resonating snare drums with his cryptic title, (sighing): oh . . . but we were monsters. Kelly's Overheard Overhead sounded like intensified ambient sound recorded in a quiet neighbourhood. Again, a different kind of listening, as we waited for something to happen (nothing did).

Roger Doyle has the surest of hands in this style. The recorded sounds in his Passade No 6 were deep and elemental, cosmic and vibrant, and engaged the ear directly with no need for figuring out.

The quick-fire percussive aggression in Ian McDonnell's Coil seemed to invite listeners to savour the final product rather than listen in vain for the original sources, manipulated violin and piano strings.

A more traditional way of listening was largely catered for in instrumental pieces including the soothing and comfortable blending of strings, winds and pitched percussion in Julie Feeney's Sleeping, and in Linda Buckley's fond and lyrical tribute to Pythagoras's theory of the music of the spheres in Do you remember the planets? for viola and taped electronics.

In his new String Quartet, commissioned and premiered here by Crash, Gerald Barry seemed to be less concerned with the listening than the performing, requiring his four players to follow up a series of unusually reflective duets with a finale in which they must sing "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" (to his own, chorale-style melody) as they play. Along with the Doyle piece, it secured the most engaged listening of the night. - Michael Dungan

Crash Ensemble shindig (Sat), SS Michael & John Church, Dublin

Between the concert on Friday night and the "marathon" of five concerts from noon to 10.30pm on Saturday, the Crash Ensemble's 10th anniversary programme included 39 pieces by 28 composers, of whom only two are now dead, and they within the last 10 years.

Attending the entire marathon was tiring but uplifting. The venue, the converted church of Saints Michael and John in Temple Bar, has the best acoustics of any I have heard the Crash use in Dublin, and the way that the 30 works were grouped almost always felt right. Not one of the performances was below par.

Many of the works had been commissioned by the Crash or were written with them in mind; and others were by influential composers or by those otherwise associated with the ensemble. Works that made a strong impact on this pair of ears included Brian Bolger's transcription of Kevin Volans's White Man Sleeps, which achieves that rare feat of making you think there was no transcription at all.

There was the craft and expressive subtlety of Raymond Deane's Ventalia, impeccably played by William Dowdall (flute) and David Adams (piano). James Tenny's Glissade was as startling as when I first heard it last year.

But for sheer compositional pizazz, it was hard to beat Terry Riley's Loops for Ancient Giant Nude Hairy Warriors Racing Down the Slopes of Battle. Written for the Crash Ensemble and premiered at the Drogheda Arts Festival earlier this year, this three- movement work sees the legendary Californian letting his hair down. Packed with direct aural references, and executed with cheeky enjoyment and technical flair, it suggests primitivism, exoticism, battle sounds, and what seemed like ambulance sirens at the end. What else do you need after a battle?

Saturday's concerts included several pieces by Donnacha Dennehy. Among his recently composed works, one of the most impressive was Stainless Staining, a virtuoso essay for piano and soundtrack that explores, with riveting effect, a harmonic spectrum of 100 overtones built on low G sharp. It was played by the pianist for whom it was written, Lisa Moore, who is also the pianist with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the New York-based group that has deeply influenced the Crash, and likewise runs marathon sequences of concerts.

In this piece, and in Frederik Rzewski's Piano Piece No 4, Moore provided two of the star performances of the day - brimming with virtuosity and with the enjoyment of creativity. Another solo highlight was Andrew Zolinski's muscular yet shapely playing of two iconoclastic pieces by Nancarrow, Prelude and Blues and Tango?

However, for enjoyable astonishment, nothing quite beat the singer-cellist Laura Moody. She plays lyrically; then as if it was a box for sound effects. She sings her own almost-pop songs, gurgles, hoots, wails, taps her throat with the bow. Yet it's all seamless, as if she, the cello and the music are a single organism.

The final concert included two recent pieces that Dennehy has written for the celebrated Sean Nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird. His setting of Aisling Gheal creates a beautifully scored and harmonically coloured backdrop to the song; and Grá agus Bás is nothing less than a transmutation of traditional style, with Ó Lionáird's beautiful singing woven into sounds imbued with harmonic overtones.

No wonder this piece made such an impact when it was played in the USA earlier this year. It is deeply expressive, and shows that this ensemble can caress just as effectively as it can crash.  - Martin Adams

Jan Garbarek Quartet, The Helix, Dublin

"Boring," shouted a member of the audience at the end of a rather repetitive tenor solo over a rock beat on Jan Garbarek's Latin. Appalling manners, but he had a point, even if he overstated it. This pleasant, easy on the ear and generally accessible music was the least interesting I've heard from the great Norwegian saxophonist.

In terms of quality, it was in no way comparable to the marvellous concert his quartet gave in Cork four years ago. Pianist and keyboard player Rainer Brüninghaus was Garbarek's only holdover from then; bassist Eberhard Weber is ill and was replaced by a Brazilian electric bassist, Yuri Daniel, and, most significantly, drummer Marilyn Mazur's place was taken by Manu Katché.

Katché has said that jazz people regard him as a rock drummer, while rock people consider him a jazz drummer, and that he considers what he does is African rhythms. In the context of this concert, however - and he is a marvellous drummer - his work was substantially towards the rock end of the rhythmic spectrum.

With the sound balance heavily favouring him - and he was LOUD - he not only dominated the music in terms of volume, but also influenced it in other ways. Where Mazur was a subtle colourist, Katché was very groove-oriented, making the music, frankly, rather one-dimensional and - at times, though not always - boring.

The material, a mix of old and new, was mostly originals by Garbarek, with one each by Katché and Daniel, and pieces by Nascimento (Miracle of Fish), Shankar (Paper Nut) and Saevarud (Rondo Amoroso). Mostly they consisted of simple motifs rather than extended compositions, with little or no harmonic movement; even when they offered harmonic options, sometimes the band chose to solo over single chords.

There's nothing wrong with that, except that in this instance the dominance of rhythmic elements made for soloing with less linear interest. Garbarek and Katché seemed happiest with this, Brüninghaus less so; he was very professional in what he did, but one sensed his heart wasn't in it. And the bassist was a minor figure in the mix.

Most of all, the impression was that this was a slick, carefully considered show. And while the band, or the two main elements of it, seemed to have a good time, there was little sense of surprise or discovery that usually accompanies jazz delivered by superior musicians. Honesty also compels the observation that approximately one third of the near-capacity audience gave the band a standing ovation. - Ray Comiskey

McNamara, Mayers, Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin 

Water was the common element in Limerick-born tenor Paul McNamara's recital of Schubert songs with Australian pianist Philip Mayers at the Hugh Lane Gallery. Songs about boats (Der Schiffer), about fishing (Fischerweise, Wie Ulfru fischt and Die Forelle), and featuring rivers (Der Strom, Auf der Donau and Sehnsucht) allowed McNamara to revel energetically - heldentenor-like - in the romantic era's poetic preoccupation with the glories of nature and the joys of the simple life.

There weren't quite enough quieter songs to provide satisfactory contrast and balance to all the bracing, heart-bursting heroism and unbridled rejoicing in nature. Yet ultimately this was of no real consequence, owing to the exceptional range of all kinds of contrasts - stylistic, emotional, and narrative - in McNamara's final item, Der Taucher ("The Diver").

At just under 30 minutes, this ballad-cantata is more of a one-man mini-opera than a song, and it occupied the entire second half of the recital. In 27 verses Schiller recounts the story of a king who promises a gold goblet to whoever retrieves it from the ferocious whirlpool into which he has thrown it. It's a great yarn, but it took great story-telling from both McNamara and Mayers to hold the Hugh Lane audience as utterly rapt as they did. McNamara traversed several roles and several styles, including much recitative, to make his performance a truly multifaceted one and to make the story seem as vivid and credible as if we were watching it on DVD. - Michael Dungan