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Out Hear: new music::new Ireland – part 2


Ian Wilson: Drive; Spilliaert’s Beach

Ronan Guilfoyle: two movements from Sonata for Solo Violin

Philip Martin: Homer Blues; Two Elegies

Philip Hammond: Midnight Shadows; Elegiac Variation


Iona Petcu-Colan- violin

Michael McHale - piano


King’s Place, 16 November 2009


The second of two autumn concerts organised by the Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland, brought representatives of Ireland’s more lyrical streams of composition to King’s Place. The performers on this occasion were Iona Petcu-Colan and Michael McHale, both young players little-heard here, but with impressive international CVs.


Perhaps as a result of having to squeeze several pieces into a short (one-hour) recital, their programme choices didn’t present the most musically profound statements in recent Irish music. Nevertheless, there was enough here to hint at greater depths for those wishing to explore further. (The CMC are very accommodating in this respect, producing a series of free promotional CDs. As an introduction to and survey of the state of Irish music these can be highly recommended.)


Of the four composers represented in this concert, Ian Wilson is probably the best-known in London, even if his music is still only infrequently performed here. Drive (1992) and Spilliaert’s Beach (1999) are relatively early pieces that don’t immediately anticipate the turns taken by his later music, but there are common elements of harmonic language and melodic fluency. I was especially struck by McHale’s playing in Drive, which extracted an almost lounge-jazzy feel from some of the piano chords that I hadn’t heard before but rather liked as evidence of Wilson’s mellifluous style, open to a wide range of influences and able to accommodate them all without descending to easy eclecticism.


Ronan Guilfoyle actually is a jazz player – a bassist – but jazz elements in his music were harder to discern, on the surface at least. Petcu-Colan played two movements from Guilfoyle’s solo violin sonata (2007). The first (movement II) exploited a combination of vocal and string techniques together gave rise to some interesting-sounding effects. Petcu-Colan – a very expressive actor – made the most of the theatrical possibilities on offer. The second (movement IV) was more conventional, utilising a number of ‘virtuoso’ devices (runs up and down the fingerboard etc.). I found both a little hamstrung, though, by their formal simplicity, which consisted generally of rotating and alternating a pool of musical units. The effect was not cumulative, but neither was it contemplative or critical – the material aspired to a long-breathed, romantic lyricism; the form didn’t.


Philip Martin’s two pieces were both short. The Two Elegies made little impression on me, unfortunately; Homer’s Blues I thought was interesting for its extreme slowness. I tried counting the 12-bar blues changes, but they always seemed to come 8, 16 or 32 beats later than I expected. This might have given more space between the expected blues figures for Martin to assert his character, but the music actually felt rather flat – the piano especially could have been given more to do than repeated vamping below the violin part.


McHale had more to do in Philip Hammond’s piano solo Midnight Shadows, another jazz/blues-influenced piece, but one that found a spikier gestural vocabulary and some of the most dissonant chords of the evening. The Elegiac Variation, for both players, again took a sharp, confrontational posture in its jagged melodic figures and rhythms. The composer sought ‘a sense of estrangement and separation’ between the two instruments; this was fairly crudely done in the first section, with the instruments alternating with one another, but over the course of the piece these more problematic materials gradually found an accommodation with one another. Whereas some of tonight’s music got stuck in an over-consistency of expression, Hammond was prepared to take risks in order to find a more interesting result.


Tim Rutherford-Johnson


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