The Works of John Buckley


John Buckley is one of the leading figures of the middle generation of Irish composers and he was the centre of attention at Boyle on Sunday for a wide-ranging programme of his smaller-scale music, in the town's Arts Festival's first single-composer-focused evening.

Introducing the programme, the composer described it as dealing with three particular strands of his work, piano music, works for solo instruments of a non-harmonic nature (the flute and horn), and music for young people; along with these, two movements of his Guitar Sonata were thrown in for good measure.

Buckley, whose metier is the kaleidoscope of the modern symphony orchestra with glittering percussion, is not really the easiest of composers to represent thoroughly on a more intimate scale. In Boyle, it was perhaps in the roulades and whoops of the Sonata for solo horn (not always solidly delivered by its dedicatee, Cormac O hAodain) or in the jagged strumming of the finale of the Guitar Sonata (flamboyantly thrown off by Benjamin Dwyer) that his musical extroversion was most clearly expressed.

The largest element in the programme, the piano music (And wake the purple year, Preludes 1 & 3, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun and Three lullabies for Deirdre) was played with easy fluidity by Anthony Byrne, but without much clarity of articulation or sharpness of rhythm. Far stronger moment-by-moment characterisation is needed to make these pieces, particularly the dangerously limp Lullabies, sound well.

By contrast, in the earliest (1973) music on offer, the young flautist Mary Toolin provided finely-balanced phrasing and a firm projection of line in the first and third of the Three pieces for solo flute, though her plaintiveness of tone proved less accommodating in the angular writing of the second.

The closing choral items for young people, Spring and Haiku seasons, brought enthusiastic, strong-voiced singing from the Choirs of Scoil Chriost an Ri, Boyle, and the Rynn Singers of Mohill; and, although the professional soprano in Haiku seasons, Julia Canavan, seemed unduly challenged by the material, Anthony Byrne found his best form of the evening in the atmospheric accompaniments.