Music and Reviews from Clare, Limerick, Waterford and sometimes further afield

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

New Ventures in Chamber Music

Mozart Piano Quartet in G minor
Stanford   Piano Quartet in F major
Dvorak No 1 in D major
My Lagan Love  trad arr McHale

 The Vanbrugh roll on as trio since the retirement of their violinist Greg Ellis. A 4th wheel was added by pianist Michael McHale at a recital at City Hall Waterford last Thursday. McHale was last heard here with clarinettist Michael Collins. Piano quartets are not often heard on the concert platform. String quartets when they collaborate with a pianist will more usually play a quintet rather than leave a player sitting out.  The three quartets heard at the first recital on the Waterford-Music recital series in 2018 were unfamiliar to me. It was a thrilling if slightly terrifying experience to sit at the City Hall Steinway as page turner and see at close range the black dots of the score transformed into cascades of sound by the superb playing of McHale. The surprise of the evening was the quartet by Stanford, a four movement work full of contrast and exuberance. An encore of a gorgeous arrangement of the slow air My Lagan Love made the audience melt at the close. It was great to see a good house in to enjoy a terrific evening.

If you missed the tour, the Vanbrugh with McHale have a few dates coming up at the NCH and UCC later in Feb and March when they add a trio by Schubert and quartet by Schumann to the programme.
 Details here

Portraits: Debut of McGill/McHale Trio on Cedille Records

Pianist Michael McHale adds to his expanding discography with this most unusual collaboration. Flute and  clarinet merge with  piano in an attractive and refreshing programme of contemporary works. Adding much to the pleasure of the collection  is the addition of spoken word delivered by the clear measured voice of actor Mahershala Ali. The title of the album is taken from Portraits; a series of a dozen poems by American poet and social activist Langston Hughes.  Hughes I discover hailed from Joplin Missouri and is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance in New York City.The poems punctuate musical portraits by Valerie Coleman. I  enjoyed the suite of dance movements by Paul Schoenfield . McHale's flair for arrangement is beautifully  demonstrated in arrangements of Rachmaninov's Vocalise and The Lark in the Clear Air which suits the wind timbre perhaps,dare I say it, better than TC Kelly's violin and piano arrangement that we are more familiar with.

More rare quartet repertoire coming up at the next recital in Waterford on 1st March. Musici Ireland features Waterford's Emmet Byrne on oboe in a Mozart Oboe Quartet. Emmet is a member of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Related posts Q&A with Michael McHale

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Diversions in Dungarvan

On Saturday, I took a trip down to Dungarvan drawn by the Tionól Nioclás  Tóibín, an  annual weekend of events dedicated to the memory of the famous  sean nós singer who was a native of An Rinn.  I was too late for the morning workshops but I was just in time for a lecture by Brendáin O Cróinín who has just published a book  on the life and work of 18th century poet, Piaras Mac Gearailt. Mac Gearailt is best known for the song Rosc Catha na Mumhan. O Croinin read from his prepared script and the local male voice choir. Cór Fear na nDéise enlivened the event with a rousing rendition of the Munster battle song and the song Sean O Dí.  The choir formed eight years ago under director Darren O Droma  have just launched a CD of songs with instrumental accompaniments from the area (Ceolta Néata)  and I look forward to hearing it on my journeys in the coming week.

Over in Mooneys, as the the Ireland Italy rugby match was in the final moments, fidils and accordions were striking up in the two  snugs. at opposite ends of the bar.   But it was songs we were after and we made our way to  Teach Ui Muirithe in Helvick Head where singers were gathered around the hearth in true sean nos fashion and taking their turn at the request of the bean an tí.  Among the many items I enjoyed was a stirring rendition of Sliabh na mban by a gentleman bearing a Nioclas Toibin  tee shirt. I much enjoyed hearing a young man from Connemara. Concubhar o Lughasa, winner of the 2017 Corn Ui Riada, the premier sean nos singing competition. There was room for sport and music in this convivial pub in Helvick. A large photo of local hero, long distance runner John Treacy took pride of place over the fireplace and a clutch of hurling supporters watched the broadcast of the Limerick Cork game with the sound off so as not to conflict with the singers.
Concubhar O Luasa in action at Tionól Niocláis Toibin

Paul Dunlea
Tempting as it was to stay for the evening events, we came back into Dungarvan where a weekend of jazz events was in full flow at Lawlor's Hotel. We caught an early evening session with a very sophisticated  quartet in the bar. Fronted by trombone player Paul Dunlea, the line up included pianist Cormac MacCarthy who I had met in Cork at a Kaleidoscope event. My piece for the Irish Examiner is here  The quartet were staying on to play for soul diva Karen Underwood for the late evening Prohibition ball. Sadly we hadn't packed our flapper dresses and a little reluctantly we left what looked like the makings of a great party night if the style in the foyer was anything to go by.

Hurrah for Music Shops: Earlier in the day I was delighted to meet  Ben O Neill in his  music shop in Dungarvan. Ben has been in business since 1973 supplying instruments and electrical goods as well as carrying a range of recordings in all their formats from vinyl, cd and cassette. It strikes me that music shops are one of the last family retail businesses on the high street. The challenges that face these shops are similar to those that face book shops and while there has been much lamentation the closure of  Liam Ruiseal's  book shop in Cork, there is not much point in moaning about the demise if you then do your shopping on Amazon. Long may independent music shops prosper.


Monday, February 5, 2018

Hometown Launch Gig at Coastguard, Tramore

I caught the first gig of a newly formed ensemble, Hometown at the Coastguard Centre in Tramore on Saturday night. A strong line up  included stalwarts, Gerry Madden on mandolin, guitarist Paul Grant and  Richie McDonald on bass. The group fully exploited the potential for a variety of timbres and  delivered an appealing and  eclectic  programme of jazz, folk and world music to a full house. Suzanne Rowe added a 'café orchestra' vibe on accordion. A new face to me was American singer , Bobby Carey who impressed with her classy renditions of jazz and folk numbers.   Set against the ensemble efforts, it was good to hear reduced instrumentation  such as a waltz on accordion, a guitar treatment of Gabriel's oboe and the Latin American riffs of bass and guitar. Highlights were the bossa nova version of folk standard, Black is the Colour and original  songs by  band member Paul Grant and Paul Foskin who was in the audience.
My sources tell me that you might catch members of the band in a more informal session on Tuesdays in Downes' Bar, Waterford.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Keane Power of Imagination: Imagine Festival Launch

The power of imagination to carry us through life's difficulties was the theme of Eamon Keane's engaging key-note address at the Imagine Festival launch at St john's College. Drawing on childhood reminiscences and his rich and varied career as a broadcaster, musician and counselor, Keane drew in the audience with his easy story-telling style, -recalling his mother Maura Hassett playing Chopin in their council house-an incident of stage fright as a fledgeling virtuoso and his encounters with assorted characters including Nelson Mandela, fiddler John Sheehan and some colourful North Kerry denizens. Describing himself as a musician who fell into journalism, he graciously paid tribute to his WLR colleague Mary O Neill for her arts programme 'giving voice to artists and documenting the local scene'. Hear hear we say! Sadly with no piano in St John's College Oratory, we'll have to wait for another occasion to hear him play
Rick O Shea seemed genuinely delighted and excited to be taking on  the direction of Waterford Writer's Week and gave a glimpse of what's in store in the weekend of events in various venues around the city. Mark Roper was on hand to read some of his poems. There were a couple of songs from troubadour Lorcan Reidy and a snippet of Sam Shepherd.

I love the Imagine Festival and often  gravitated back to Waterford for it when I lived away. On a very small budget and with a team of committed volunteers, it presents a range of arts events to brighten up those dark and dull days in late October. While it is works hard to spread the word nationally, I believe the festival aims to serve the local audience first and makes a virtue of its diversity rather than targeting a niche. I do have a quibble though. I found this launch event too long and the scheduling made it awkward for attendees to support the many arts events already happening in the city that evening.  A 6.30pm start wrapping up at 7.30pm would have  facilitated patrons to support the launch and also get to Garter Lane in time for a trad group or to  classical music recitals in the Large Room and Waterford Crystal. And surely there would have been a few takers for a cabaret singer in Theatre Royal. Maybe we could have a diary somewhere where any confirmed events could be posted so planners could see at a glance what is scheduled and avoid those awkward clashes.

Related posts: I was fortunate to hear Eamon Keane and John Sheahan perform together at Listowel Writers' Week some years ago My report here

My Round up of Imagine Festival 2016

Culture Night Waterford

To Hell in a Handbag

I set out last night to get a flavour of the Culture Night activity in Waterford city.  My experience was good in parts like a curate's egg. Speaking of clergymen, I enjoyed Helen Norton and Jonathan White's witty spin off of Wilde's Importance of Being Ernest. An hour long of crisply enunciated dialogue by the actors in the comfortable space at Garter Lane was a cheerful and well executed theatrical experience and drew a full house. My first stop at the Fat Angel Wine Bar was less successful, I couldn't hear or see any of the four short plays by local authors presented in the small back room and by default joined  the lively chatter in the front room. Gravitating toward Greyfriars, usually a focal point for culture night activity, I was surprised to find the doors to the exhibition at the Municipal Gallery closed and was left with feeling that the buzz and the culture vultures were somewhere else this year. Later I did manage to squeeze into the Oak Room of The Munster Bar for the Mod Poets session. I heard a intense monologue with a bleak theme of post traumatic stress disorder delivered by a very well turned out actress in 50's costume by Anna Jordan and Paul McDonald's ode to his dog.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hungarian Feast on a Famine Ship: New Ross Piano Festival

A famine ship and a grand piano seem unlikely co-stars. Add in a distinguished Hungarian diplomat, a pale young man in concert tails and a flock of starlings perched in the rigging as unwitting extras and the scene looked like a setting of a classy spy thriller.  I was on the Dunbrody moored on the River Barrow, Co Wexford for the launch of the 13th New Ross Piano Festival. This year, there is an emphasis on Hungarian repertoire and artists  in the weekend concerts. This year,  artistic director with his formidable team are scheduling  some jazz piano events. Heavyweight on the international scene Enrico Pieranunzi will be in New Ross on Wednesday. Check him out on the video above.
 I was pleased to meet chairman, John Kissane who said he particularly loves the chamber music element of the festival. There are loads of attractive programmes and an impressive roster of emerging and established talent in daytime and evening concerts. Check out the details on the festival website After a few well chosen words by the Hungarian Ambassador, Istvan Phally, there was a little piano music from Sean Morgan Rooney and director of the festival Finghin Collins. As the last notes faded out over the river Barrow, the starlings with a whoosh abandoned the riggings and flew away,. no doubt to return to St Mary's Church when the festival proper begins.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Billy O'Brien & Friends

Sur ta lèvre pure, ô ma bien-aimée,
Telle aussi mon âme eut voulu mourir,
Du premier baiser qui l’a parfumée.

The dreamy  setting of Coibri  by Ernest Chausson telling of a hummingbird who sups too much love 'from the rosy cup' seemed to catch the languid mood on one of the warmest days we've enjoyed this summer.  Expressively sung by tenor Phillip Keegan with sunlight flooding  in the  Large Room from the Georgian windows, the song was just one of the many highlights of a programme presented by pianist Billy O Brien. "A concert of summer classics that will wow you" was promised in the publicity and wow us they most certainly did in the nicely balanced programme featuring  various permutations of  five performers, all young professionals in the early stages of their careers. On violin was Siobhan Doyle and Marian Power. The cellist was Yseult Cooper-Stockdale. As well as Borodin, Schumann and Elgar, we also heard a premiere of a new work by Ben Hanlon who introduced the work in his self deprecating manner. His Piano Quartet no 1 was a series of four reflections taking inspiration from eclectic sources; Autumn leaves, the rhythms of politicians names and a gruesome painting of a Pictish Warrior. The writing was lively with much colourful interplay between the parts.

An encore of Gardel's Por Una Cabeza brought the audience to their feet but that was not the end of the proceedings. Aside from the excellent musicianship displayed, the evening was extraordinary  on another front. It was packed with more than 200 patrons and many under the age 30. Not since Joanna McGregor performed here have I seen a full house for a classical music programme. When the music stopped, another soundscape kicked in. The sound of  buzz of conversation resonated in the room for a long time as the audience which included many family and friends of the musicians lingered to chat, take some snaps and generally  savour the magic. Bravo Billy and Friends and Ben Hanlon. It was marvellous!.


Friday, June 23, 2017

The Second Heaven of Desire in Old Tramore

Anyone walking around the Lafcadio Hearn Gardens in Tramore on a fine summer day might well imagine that they were in heaven. The beautiful gardens were designed in a Japanese spirit as an homage to an Irish writer who embraced the culture of his adopted homeland and wrote extensively on Japanese folklore and beliefs. Hearn spent childhood summers in Tramore as did the composer Paul Hayes who now lives in Japan. 'The Second Heaven of Desire in Old Tramore'   is a  setting of a short story from one of Hearn's collections. Hayes goes further and "imagines himself looking down from "heaven" on his own and Hearn's memories of Tramore". Hayes enlisted Donnacha O'Maidin to record theDawn Chorus in the gardens to form part of the piece.  The work will be premiered at a piano recital at the Large Room, City Hall Waterford, one of a plethora of events celebrating 60 years of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Japan.

The programme will be performed by renowned pianist Satako Inoue and will include works by Japanese composers Takemitsu and Tanako and a work by Donegal based composer, John McLachlan.

Satoko Inoue

   piano recital

City hall Waterford

Tues June 27th 8pm

Tickets €10/ €5

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Earthquake in Krakow:

photo Wojciech Wandzel

I'm on my first visit to Poland. There was a nip and the smell of smoked sausage in the air when I arrived early on the overnight train from Prague and the horses drawn carriages were just beginning their first circuits of the Stare Miasto . The attraction is Misteria Paschalia, a week long festival dedicated to early sacred music with events taking place nightly in various venues around the historic city. The programme last night featured the exhumation of a 'sepulchro', a  rare sacred opera by a 17th century Italian composer unknown to me, Antonio Draghi. First performed in Vienna, Il Terremoto is described in the handsome programme notes as being a 'a Hallowed Play for the Holiest Sepulcre of Christ in the Most Magnificent Chapel of her Holy Roman Majesty Empress Eleanor'. The experience was like seeing a Fra Lippi, Renaissiance painting come to life with an early music sound track provided by the elegant and spirited playing of the combined forces of Polish and French Baroque ensembles, Arte dei Suonatori and La Poeme Harmonique under Vincent Dumestre. A terrific ensemble effort, among the most unusual voices heard was that of  counter tenor Domenique Visse. I loved the sound of the wire strung harp and I've never seen a viola de gamba player play his instrument like a lute before. The setting, the chiaroscuro lighting effects, the costumes and the dramatic performances  made this quite unlike any oratorio experience I've had to date. Superb!

As I conclude, the Virgin Mary, the Centurian, San Giovanni have just got into a taxi outside my hotel. It seems like a parallel universe to see the performers in civies.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Acis and Galatea Given a C&W Makeover

I caught the second night of  the latest Opera Theatre Co. production last night at the Watergate Theatre. The nymphs and shepherds of Handel's pastoral opera, Acis and Galatea  get a  country and western makeover and are transformed to line dancing, smirting young 'uns out for a night in their  local pub . A revolving set moves us from the cosy interior to the back door smoking area Mostly the conceit works well although occasionally the ancillary action distracts  from the singer  and I believe no one should have to sing while simultaneously managing a costume change.

The singing is  terrific throughout the ensemble. Eamonn  Mulhall fresh from his appearance at the National; Theatre Amadeus and Susanna Fairbairn are the ill fated lovers. Andrew Gavin impressed as Damon and Edward Grint was Polyphemus transformed to  a sinister bar room bully.

 If you are going , I suggest you sit near enough the orchestra so that you can watch Peter Whelan in action. Directing  from the harpsichord, it was a pleasure to watch this dynamic performer mould and shape his forces. Special mention to the wind who worked hard on oboe, piccolo and recorder to add distinctive pastoral colour to the score.

Handel' Acis and Galatea  is on a nationwide tour. It arrives in Waterford's Theatre Royal  next Monday . I see that the Dun Laoghaire date is sold out. If you have the time I suggest a mini break in the South East where you can enjoy your own pastoral bliss on the newly opened Waterford Greenway. Walk or cycle the rural coastal pathway which runs between the medieval port city and Dungarvan. The opening took place 50 years to the day of the final train journey along the route There was a wonderful atmosphere at the official opening. The Barrack Street Concert Band serenaded
passers by at the starting point in Carriganore . The sun split the stones and the sense of local pride was palpable. We are truly blessed to have such outstanding natural beauty on our doorstep and bravo to county manager, Michael Walsh and everyone who had the vision to see this project through.

Jennifer O Connell's piece on Waterford Gre
enway here

Tour dates for Acis and Galatea here