The Classical Reviewer

A new release from Metier entitled Dancing in Daylight brings together piano trios from four contemporary Irish composers, John Buckley, Fergus Johnston, Rhona Clarke and Seóirse Bodley all played by The Fidelio Trio.

John Buckley (b. 1951) was born in Templeglantine, Co. Limerick and studied flute with Doris Keogh and composition with James Wilson at the Royal Irish Academy of Music. His subsequent composition studies were in Cardiff with the Welsh composer Alun Hoddinott and with John Cage. He has written a diverse range of music extending to almost 100 works to date ranging from works for solo instruments to full orchestra. Buckley’s works have been performed and broadcast in more than fifty countries worldwide and have been recorded on the Anew, Altarus, Black Box, Marco Polo, Lyric FM, Atoll and Celestial Harmonies labels. He has made numerous broadcasts on music and music education for RTÉ and Lyric FM. He has been awarded both a PhD and a DMus by the National University of Ireland and is active as a lecturer on composition and music in education. He is on the staff of St. Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin.

In three movements, his Piano Trio (2013) opens with Shadows and Echoes that commences with a long held low cello note before violin and piano join, expanding a motif which they all then develop. This is certainly music that reflects fleeting and elusive images with translucent textures from the piano and violin through which the cello brings richer melodic material. The music grows more animated before finding a beautifully textured quite coda. In Kaleidoscope the piano opens with a fast moving animated theme to which the strings join, full of energy and buoyant pulsating rhythms. This is a brilliantly conceived movement. It is the piano that opens the final movement Music Box , this time with a gently expansive motif. The strings join to take the theme forward, adding richer textures and bringing more of a focus. There are passages of passionate expression as the music develops. Soon there is a pause before an opening motif for piano returns to which the cello adds a rich deep tone. The violin joins as they weave the theme over the piano motif, building again in passion. There is another brief pause before the strings gently take the theme forward with the piano adding its gentle motif. The strings bring the most lovely, exquisitely played passages around which the expansive piano motif is trickled before a lovely coda.

Fergus Johnston (b. 1959) was born in Dublin and is a music graduate of Trinity College Dublin. He studied composition with James Wilson at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and later privately with the English composer Robert Hanson. While his output is mostly instrumental, he has recently ventured into the area of computer-assisted music having taken a Masters in Music and Media Technology in Trinity College Dublin. He is a recipient of the 1989 New Music for Sligo Composition Prize and the 1989 Macaulay Fellowship. He is a member of Aosdána, Ireland’s state-sponsored academy of creative artists.

In three movements his Piano Trio (2011) is opened by the piano, immediately joined by the strings in a dark, questioning motif. The music slowly rises only for the piano to bring back the opening motif which the strings develop through some tremendous passages full of drama and fine textures, with the piano’s opening motif never far away. There are some lovely hushed harmonics in the coda. The Fidelio Trio open the following movement dynamically with a fast moving rhythmic theme full of blues inflected ideas to which these players bring a terrific style and panache. The music moves through passages of great energy before finding a tango rhythm, the strings adding some terrific wayward textures. The boogie rhythm of earlier returns in the piano line, taken forward by the whole trio with the strings weaving some terrific lines around the piano. But the tango suddenly returns to bring about the coda. In the finale the piano picks out a theme accompanied by a pizzicato cello theme. The violin joins the pizzicato theme before the cello brings a poignant melody over the piano and pizzicato violin. The violin then takes the theme around the cello in a quite lovely passage, the piano all the while adding chords before slowly joining the melody. This movement achieves moments of intense feeling with, later, a lovely passage where the strings bring a questioning, hesitant motif reflecting the opening movement as the coda is reached.

Rhona Clarke (b.1958) studied music at University College, Dublin before completing a Ph.D at Queen’s University, Belfast. Her output includes choral, chamber, orchestral and electronic works. She has received commissions from RTÉ, the Cork International Choral Festival, Concorde, Music Network and the National Concert Hall, among others and her work has been performed and broadcast throughout Ireland and worldwide. She is a lecturer in the music department at St. Patrick’s College in Drumcondra (Dublin) and is a member of Aosdána, Ireland’s state-sponsored academy of creative artists.

Her two movement Piano Trio No.2 (2001 rev. 2015) opens with slow, broadly spaced phrases for the piano to which the violin adds a plaintive theme, later joined by the cello to weave the beautiful theme. There are some lovely harmonies and sonorities with, all the while, the piano’s broad spaced chords underpinning. The music rises through some passionate moments before the hushed coda. The cello brings a rhythmically sprung theme low in its register to open the concluding movement to which the violin, then piano joins. These players realise some terrific rhythms, weaving some fine passages before the music drops to a slower quieter passage as a broader, more leisurely section arrives. These players weave some very fine textures and harmonies whilst revealing some lovely little details before the music finds the opening rhythm to bound ahead again, arriving with pizzicato strings at a slower quieter coda.

Seóirse Bodley (b.1933) was born in Dublin and studied in Ireland and Germany before teaching at University College Dublin where he was awarded the degree of D. Mus. He is currently Emeritus Professor at University College’s music department. Influences on his compositions include a range of musical styles from the European avant-garde to Irish traditional music. He has received many commissions and his works include five symphonies for full orchestra, two chamber symphonies and numerous orchestral, choral, vocal and chamber pieces. In 2008 he was elected a Saoi of Aosdána, Ireland’s state-sponsored academy of creative artists.

In three movements his Piano Trio Dancing in Daylight (2014) opens with a dynamic motif for piano before the strings add incisive phrases leading into some lovely little ideas before the opening is repeated. We are taken through a kaleidoscope of instrumental ideas and textures. There is a joyful, dancing character to this music, with an outdoors feel. The music moves through some more thoughtful passages where these players find much beauty. There are lovely textures and harmonies before the gentle, hushed coda. In the shorter second movement the trio bring a light, buoyant theme that is passed around the players – a real delight. The final movement opens slowly as the violin brings an Irish lilt to a melody played over a cello ‘drone.’ The violin weaves some fine Irish tunes before the music springs into a sparkling dance for all three players. There are some broader moments as the theme develops, finding again the outdoor flavour of earlier before the piano introduces a slower variation of the theme around which the strings scatter little phrases. The lively dance returns to lead to the coda.

These players deliver the most impressive performances of these fine works. The recording made at the Sonic Arts Research Centre, Belfast is excellent and there are informative booklet notes. This is an attractive release that brings some impressive contemporary piano trios.

—Bruce Reader