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Out Hear: new music::new Ireland

Benjamin Dwyer: Movimientos I
Raymond Deane: Petite phrase, wp
Frank Corcoran: Quasi una preludio, wp
Jennifer Walshe: theme from, lp
Andrew Hamilton: violin/piano, wp
John McLachlan: Ghost Machine, ukp
Gerald Barry: 1998

Darragh Morgan - violin
Mary Dullea - piano

King’s Place, 12 October 2009

The first of two concerts of new Irish music for violin and piano brought the leading duo in the field, Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea, to King's Place for a selection of works from the more experimental and modernist fringes.

Apart from Gerald Barry's 1998 the works were mostly short, and they made a varying impression. Frank Corcoran again convinced me that he is a composer who deserves to be better known in this country. Something about his brambly music reminds me of Maderna – not so much in its style, but in its absolute assurance in teasing lyrical forms from its knotty exterior. Quasi una preludio was precisely poised and, even with the introduction of a sean-nós melody at the end, never watered down its acid bite.

Benjamin Dwyer's Movimientos I was similarly rich in its construction, but instead, in the service of denser, swirling textures, anchored by bursts of two-note 'pitch tunnels', as the composer calls them. The effect was of a kaleidoscopic whirl of notes that came in and out of focus on different images of itself.

In contrast, Raymond Deane's Petite phrase was attractively lyrical, but did not leave so much of an impression on me on a first hearing. John McLachlan's Ghost Machine explored the difficulties of blending violin and piano timbres mostly, to my ears at least, through periodic points of harmonic contact.

The more experimental side of contemporary Irish music was represented by the remaining three composers. Jennifer Walshe is based in New York and scoring regular performances with experimental ensembles in Manhattan. Her theme from was certainly the least conventional work on the programme, composed almost entirely of quiet, incidental sounds from the two instruments and a pair of walkie talkies. However, despite the extensive deconstruction of instruments and instrumentalists (sounds included vibrating the piano lid, rubbing a walkie talkie against clothes, etc.), the whole felt less than the sum of its parts: things happened, but their experiencing them over time, in a composed setting, never seemed to bring them beyond themselves or introduce the listener to anything new.

Andrew Hamilton's violin/piano, composed in 2000–01 is a relatively early piece, composed before his studies at The Hague under Andriessen. It contains many of the repetitive, cumulative approach to structure of later works, but it also felt a little safer in many respects too: the timbres were gentler and the cuts between sections not so strange.

Gerald Barry's 1998 is a monster piece – an unstoppable 25-minute juggernaut. Although I was left wondering why it had to be this size I enjoyed each individual moment of it: Barry's absolute control of his musical resources is immensely impressive.

Several names on this programme are very fine composers, and testimony to the current strength of new Irish music. Whether they were all shown in their best works, I'm not sure, but the demand must be: more, please.

Tim Rutherford-Johnson

See Mary Dullea's recent review of Crumb's Makrokosmos