Noriko Kawai (piano), Mary Hegarty (soprano), Ulster Orchestra/Thierry Fischer

 

Au milieu - Gerald Barry

Sur les pointes - Gerald Barry

From The Intelligence Park - Gerald Barry

Piano Concerto - Gerald Barry

The Eternal Recurrence - Gerald Barry

One of the strangest features of musical life in Ireland is the ongoing failure of any of our leading institutions to deal with the issue of an Irish repertoire. Rather than engage in the expected, ongoing, evaluative sifting - and periodic re-evaluation - bodies like RTE and the NCH seem to feel their duty at most as being the premiering of new work.

The idea, fundamental to the creation of an Irish repertoire, of selective re-hearings guided by an evaluative process is something they largely seem to avoid.

In this context, Lyric FM's forthcoming Gerald Barry Festival and last Friday's all-Barry BBC Invitation Concert by the Ulster Orchestra, are particularly welcome events that buck the trend.

Both of the Barry celebrations range back in time to the earliest works the composer currently acknowledges. On Friday, Noriko Kawai played the Piano Concerto of 1977, or, rather, as much of it as the composer now lets stand. This piece was originally conceived as a sort of theatrical anti-concerto, a youthful burst of excess to undermine the excesses to which concerto-writing has been prone since the romantic era. My memory, from conversations with the composer, is that the initial conception was much diluted by the time the score took shape.

Now, it's been trimmed further, the David and Goliath confrontation of soloist and pre-recorded tape has been removed, and only the strangely inverted relationship between soloist and orchestral pianist remains to suggest any of the intended sting of the original.

Mary Hegarty was the soprano soloist in the specially-commissioned Nietzschesetting, The Eternal Recurrence. "Setting" is hardly the word for Barry's treatment of Nietzsche's ultimately all-embracing list of the detailed wants of joy.

The piece, for a singer with an endless and effortless supply of high Cs, rather embeds the text in an orchestral blaze characterised by almost relentless exuberance - "Joy wants the eternity of all things". Like Noriko Kawai in the Piano Concerto, Mary Hegarty showed the temperament and technical resource to give to the music without stint.

Kawai's performances of two piano solos, Au milieu and Sur les pointes (both 1981), were rather hampered by the acoustic of the Ulster Hall, which tended to swallow the more virtuosic passages; Sur les pointes, with its extended, pecked staccato opening, fared best. Conductor Thierry Fischer revealed a natural gift for the bite and colour of Barry's music, and also, importantly, of the resonance of its harmonic world. The energy of the outer sections of The Eternal Recurrence was superbly sustained. His handling of From The Intelligence Park (a slightly revised version of Of Queens' Gardens of 1986) was impressive, too, for its contrasting moments of haloed langour.