These recordings of piano trios by Irish composers are a wonderful surprise: New music from Ireland, which is enjoyable and perfectly interpreted.
Irish music is virtually unknown in the rest of Europe unless it is from the folk genre. Classical Irish music had a difficult time even in Ireland due to the political history of the country. When the island began to be ruled by the British in the 17 th century, the Gaelic nobility withdrew and with it the Gaelic language and culture, in contrast to the customary cultural support given by nobility during the Baroque era in the rest of Europe. Dublin became the capital of the British province and lived on what came across from England – Italian opera singers and instrumentalists from everywhere. Even Händel spent ten months in Dublin. The music scene during the Baroque era was quite diverse – after all eight hospitals were able to enjoy benefit concerts at times -, but it was music like everywhere in Europe.
The return to valuing nationalist musical ideals began towards the end of the 18 th century. Choir music received a new role in the rebirth of church music, which deliberately favored the Roman model, rather than the church music of the detested Anglicans. Finally, around 1900 the ‘Celtic Revival’ gained momentum, especially after the separation from England in the early ‘20s.
This returning to their own musical roots and rejection of musical influences which had originated in England also led to the fact that ‘classical’ music was disliked by large percentage of the Irish population. This has consequences to today – everything non-Gaelic is doomed to a niche existence.
In spite of this, the musical culture developed to a relative thriving, thanks to the support by broadcasting stations with their cultural programs, their orchestras and performance spaces. In Cork a choir festival was initiated, in Dublin a festival for contemporary music and international competitions for Organ and Piano. The Contemporary Music Centre in Dublin supports is supportive by publishing music and recording artists as well as distributing the recordings. Thanks to this kind of support there is a surprisingly broad scene of composers. In addition there are excellent musicians, for example the Fidelio Trio, which made it a priority to introduce music by their fellow countrymen.
This new CD by the Trio contains pieces by four composers, written after 2010. It is inconsequential to assign this music to genres – composition styles are too different. This is exactly what is appealing when listening to this music. It contains everything, beginning with a reminiscence of Bartók or the impressionists, all the way to hidden or even quite explicit elements of Jazz, the Tango and of course Irish folk music. They are not eclectic emulations, but independent, clever ideas which develop based on traditional styles.
Irish folk music plays an important role in the Piano Trio by Seóirse Bodley, the oldest of the presented composers (born 1933). The work’s title is ‘Dancing in Daylight’, which was used as the title for this CD. He sees it as a piece, which is transparent, and easily understood by anybody – just like the music in an outdoor dance event.
The Trio by John Buckley (born 1951), especially the third movement with the title ‘MusicBox’, is ironic and humorous. It originates in a theme similar to ‘Jeux d’eaux’ by Debussy. It is tossed back and forth between the instruments until it slowly extinguishes, like a music box running out.
Fergus Johnston wrote his Trio of three movements around a motive based on 4 notes, which are adjacent, separated by half notes, similar to the well known initials D-S-C-H (Shostakovich) or B-A-C-H. This grows into complex structures including a Boogie and a Tango in the second movement, before the piece ends in vocal sound tapestry.
Rhona Clarke (born 1958) introduces two movements of different character side by side. A romantic conversation between violin and cello rises above blocks of accords on the piano. The second movement in contrast is dominated by a continuously pounding rhythm.
Kudos to the musicians of the Fidelio Trio. Their playing is confident, they explore the sound canvas of their instruments, and are technically assured, while the violinist Darragh Morgan also masters the style of an Irish fiddler.
The recording is very balanced, every instrument appears present, never does the piano drown out the string instruments, which unfortunately makes the low pitch of the cello almost inaudible on other CDs. The booklet is informative, only in English, but information about the composers and their work is rare in other cases – this information is gratefully received, including the introduction in which the current situation of Irish music is briefly laid out. Interpretation: **** Sound Quality:**** Repertoire: ***** Booklet: ****