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New Irish Music

Donnacha Dennehy – Bulb

Benedict Schlepper Connolly – Ekstase II

Kevin Volans – Piano Trio

Linda Buckley – Galura

Frank Corcoran – Piano Trio

Gerald Barry – Triorchic Blues (trio version)

Joe Zawinul, arr. Frank Lyons – Birdland


The Fidelio Trio

Darragh Morgan, violin, Robin Michael, cello, Mary Dullea, piano


The Warehouse, Waterloo, London

1st July 2008



This was an interesting presentation of (mostly) new Irish music. The Fidelio Trio are leading practitioners in this repertoire, having worked closely with many of the composers represented, but their choice of programme was sometimes uneven and didn't always show the players at their best.


A trend for postminimalist composition is establishing itself in Ireland, with Donnacha Dennehy one of its most established practitioners. The tenets of his style – slow harmonic rhythms and gradual changes of melodic and rhythmic patterns – allow for luxuriant and high-impact textures. This is one of his music's chief attractions, but it carries the risk that without the timbral resources of a larger ensemble you may have little else left; the famously awkward piano trio lineup must be a particular challenge. Bulb took the approach of filling the instrumental space with fast alternating notes – this generated plenty of energy, with the ensemble sounding like a single, relentless machine, but after a few minutes I found the relative lack of textural contrast became a little wearing. Dennehy's student, Benedict Schlepper Connolly, found more success in a similar style with a stripped-down approach in his Ekstase II. With the piano mostly drilling a bare fifth, the spare motivic writing for violin and cello paradoxically acquired a depth and sheen that better held the ear. Another young composer, Linda Buckley, also succeeded in bringing a rich ensemble sound from the trio in her Galura, a new addition to the extremely select group of works for piano trio and electronics. Buckley composes well for live instruments and live electronics, but some uncertain balance issues made it difficult to completely evaluate her success on this occasion.


Kevin Volans's music reflects another return to tonality and approachability. According to the composer's programme note, his Piano Trio tells the story of a conflict between abstract and figurative music, and the attempts of one to "censor" the other. These are strong words that I really could not hear supported in the music. As the piece unfolded, rhythmically driven and harmonically edgy came to stand for "abstract", and tuneful stood for "figurative". Neither characterisation convinced and the contrast between the two was a matter of fine degree; I'm afraid too I wasn't much interested the rather obvious alternating dialectic in which they were placed.


My attention was therefore wavering when, midway through the second half, Frank Corcoran stepped up to introduce his 1978 Piano Trio. Corcoran talks like his music – a neat wit running on tight springs. Hidden among the brambles of his Trio is a satisfying emotional arc of tensions and resolutions. In the middle of a programme of neo-tonal, audience-friendly neutrality, Corcoran's unabashed 12-tonery was something of a jolt to the system, and surprisingly met my most conventional musical expectations in the most challenging idiom of the evening. Gerald Barry's Triorchic Blues, played here in a new version for trio was an even purer blast of high energy and, with a delicate arrangement of Weather Report's Birdland by Frank Lyons at the end, the concert was over just as it was finally finding its stride.


Tim Rutherford-Johnson

See also CD review Bulb