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Ed Bennett, Deirdre Gribbin, Donnacha Dennehy and Kevin Volans

Irish Piano Trios

The Fidelio Trio
(Darragh Morgan, violin, Robin Michael, cello and Mary Dullea, piano)

NMC D147


James Dillon

the soadie waste etc

Noriko Kawai, Irvine Arditti, Arditti Quartet and Hiroaki Takenouchi

NMC D131


Inspiring and doubly rewarding releases from NMC this month of two highly desirable discs of contemporary chamber music.

They cover the whole range of instrumental permutations from violin and piano solos, through violin/piano duo and piano trio to duo-piano and piano quintet*. I alternated listening between the two discs, interposing the Fidelio Trio's selection amongst an important collecton of James Dillon's chamber music.

The Fidelio Trio stakes a claim for an overdue re-invention of the piano trio, which had languished in 'comparative decline' since WW II. "- - replenished after a period of drought, it can now be anything you want it to be". The four works by four composers all with strong Irish connections are each as different as could be, and hold no terrors for these superbly equipped players.

Not a committed afficionado of minimalism, I found the repetitive structures and percussive piano of Donnacha Dennehy's Bulb uningratiating at times, but its harmony, based on low G up to the fifteenth overtone, involves 'microtonal glory' which these briliant players embrace with aplomb. Ed Bennett's unpredicability is winning and Deidre Gribbin's Indian-derived nature picture exquisitely beautiful in its quiet memories of water flowing, swirling and bubbling, 'never the same twice'... Kevin Volans' tribute to Feldman and Guston for piano trio, which has "shaken off its past and become once more a vibrant, contemporary medium" is superficially repetitive but marked by intricate "mind-numbing challenges; physically punishing patterns, varying repeats, tricky changes of rhythm...", a piece which demands to be heard again. **

The indispensable Dillon survey from 1976 to 2003 is too rich to take all at once.

For me, the most important new acquaintances from his rich oeuvre were the 'wild ride' (Richard Toop) of the two piano black/nebulae, which introduces pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi (whom we have followed since student days) into the illustrious company of the Ardittis and Noriko Kawai, and the Third Book of Traumwerk (this one for violin and piano). Its original predecessor Book One is a key contemporary work for violin duo, which we have admired since 1995 and reviewd on DVD recently (Book II for violin and harpsichord is not commercially available yet). The dozen little pieces of Book Three (2002) are more accessible, often whimsical and less complex than much of James Dillon's music. They should make their way into the recital repertoire.

The recording of all this music at Potton Hall is notably clear, especially pleasingly so in the dense music of black/nebulae which could easily become confused in an over-resonant venue. These are both discs to which I shall return often.

Peter Grahame Woolf

*See also Thomas Ades' piano quintet, also with the Arditti Quartet.

** Read also my namesake's fuller appreciation of the pioneering Irish piano trios in Musical Criticism.