Review: Claire Booth (soprano), Peter Manning (Violin)

Claire Booth (soprano), Peter Manning (violin)
Oriel Centre , Dundalk Gaol
György Kurtág – Kafka Fragments

György Kurtág was born in 1926, and wrote Kafka Fragments in 1985-87. This performance, promoted by the Louth Contemporary Music Society, was given by the same two British musicians who last year in London gave a staged presentation, designed by Netia Jones, that attracted much praise. However, I was glad to see this extraordinary work receive its Irish premiere in the manner the composer originally intended – as a concert piece.

The fragments of the title are phrases, or parts of them, chosen by Kurtág from Kafka's private writings. The musical work lasts just over an hour – a sequence of short sections with the intensity of the strong miniature. So the smallest gesture can make an enormous impact. Meaning is gleaned via the suggestive flash rather than by statement. As Paul Griffiths says, in this concert's excellent printed programme, the alignment of 41 short pieces "allows a whole view of life to emerge in shards and spaces".

The atmospheric, long, high and narrow space of the Dundalk Oriel Centre in Dundalk Gaol seems apt for music so concerned with interiority. The performances by soprano Claire Booth and violinist Peter Manning are highly charged and utterly persuasive. Listening to this procession of concentrated ideas alters one’s awareness of time. It is as if the gestural extravagance of expressionism has been squeezed into a sequence of tiny spaces, in which huge things could happen – or not.