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

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Songs for a Summer Evening

I  expected a treat when the Lions Club of Ennis presented a very enjoyable song recital at Danlann an Chlár last night and got it. Featuring established operatic soloists Helen Houlihan and Owen Gilhooly, it featured a range of genres with  songs from opera, musical theatre and Irish  parlour songs . They were sympathetically accompanied at the piano by Adare based pianist, Irina Denova . 

The operatic meat of the programme was contained in the first half with arias and duets by Lehar, Bizet and Puccini . The programme opened with two  Novello duets demonstrating a charming sense of teamwork and rapport from the outset between the two, both of them convincingly assuming the roles contained within the repertoire.  Owen's solo number  from Merry Widow was suitably  insouciant following Helen's bravura rendition of Oscar Strauss's 'My Hero' .  Helen  looked every inch the star in no less than two glamorous outfits and this soprano featured in my highlights of 2011 

The Ennis Cathedral Choir more usually tucked away in the gallery looked and sounded splendid  with conductor Michael Hennessy. The Jenkins, Pie Jesu featuring  youngster Andrea Sheehan and soprano Veronica Belis was particularly effective and very moving . Tenor, Tony Murray made a further foray onto the platform when the baritone theatrically feigned to forget the words of a Percy French number adding to the general  good humour. 

Houlihan & Gilhooly
Although both singers  proved adept at adapting their style to deliver simpler folk songs effectively, the real surprise of the evening was Gilhooly's control and lightness of touch.  I had heard this artist several times this season, most recently in splendid form in Brahms Requiem at UCH.  and in Haydn's Thereseinmesse  Although well known on the Irish and international opera scene, his voice proved to be a supple instrument in the lighter musical theatre repertoire and there was a sense that he relished the repertoire. The sentimental  music hall number, Macushla was a high point in the first half and I swear he had a tear in his eye in the big number from Les Mis, 'Bring Him Home'.  With a busy season of operatic engagements ahead, he will be heard singing  roles by Sibelius and Rimsky Korsakov  in Buxton and nearer to home at Lismore Opera as Figaro in the Barber of Seville. 

Winners of Clare's Got Talent, all girl song and dance team, 12 +1 were utterly charming and Karoline O Sullivan added an aria from Bohemian Girl fitting in with the general nostalgic tenor of the evening.

The evening was conceived by Helen I understand as a fundraiser for Clarecastle Day Centre and Canteen  and the artists had generously donated their considerable talents. There was a good attendance. I met Alison Bowyer, of impeccable operatic lineage herself who  tells me that there will be  a new show at the Knappogue Castle  with hot off the manuscript arrangements from Colman Pearce  and  daughter Stephanie, a CM past pupil was busy rehearsing for a performance of Oklahoma in Bejing! 

Congratulations to the Lions Club in association with Colaiste Muire  for organising the event. Outgoing District Governor, Terence Mangan was in attendance. In terms of  professional performances, the presentation  of superb singing in a comfortable venue was on a high level.  While it was comprehensive programme, some of the spoken introductions  would have benefited from being trimmed a bit.  The pair can be heard again on August 3rd as guests of Kilkee Civic Trust  . Well worth an excursion!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Letter to the Editor, Irish Times:Limerick's Music Scene

Dear Sir,
Aoife Barry’s two page article in the Irish Times  (April 6th) on Limerick’s music scene was broad but  hardly comprehensive.  Although a range of genres were covered, no aspect of the classical music scene or indeed the jazz scene was covered, not even in the catch all section, ‘What else is happening in Limerick’.

On Saturday night at UCH, the 100+ strong Limerick Choral Union with a 50 strong orchestra gave a terrific performance of two wonderful choral works by Brahms and Guonod to a well filled auditorium.  The Association of Irish Choirs and the Irish Chamber Orchestra are based in University College Limerick and the LCU which also performs works by living composers, most recently  hosting Karl Jenkins,  is just one of several groups contributing to a healthy sphere of activity just as deserving of acknowledgement and recognition in any overview  of a music scene in the Shannonside  city in your pages .

Yours sincerely

Cathy Desmond


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

German Excursions: Strauss Karaoke and Munther at Murnau

I spent a few days over the Easter holidays in the Bavarian town of Garmisch Partenkirchen . The resort was in  a transition phase with most of the ski lifts closed and  while cafes and restaurants were beginning to set up their  gardens for al fresco dining the weather was too inclement for  outdoor coffee and kuchen.

  A short train journey on the excellent and inexpensive Bavarian rail network will bring you in one direction to Mittenwald , home of Klotz who introduced the tradition of Italian stringed instrument making to the region . One of the town houses houses a museum dedicated to the craft (closed on Mondays).   A short ride in the other direction towards Munich brings you to the town of Murnau and I spent a very pleasant afternoon if rainy afternoon here .
There is a pedestrian area with a choice of cafes and I had a Gateau Agnes Bernauer in Konditorei Kronner to fortify me before tackling the Schloss Museum . The gallery was busy with holiday makers sheltering from the rain . There was  a special exhibit cheerfully titled Endlich Ferien featuring  a collection of paintings and old photographs associated with this lakeside resort. Sun drenched boating scenes , girls in their summer cloths and local boy Kandinsky digging his garden were among the exhibits. The real surprise of the visit however was in the permanent exhibition on the top floor dedicated to Gabrielle Munther. I was not familiar with this artist , a consort and student of Kandinsky and thankfully the accompanying notes were rpovided in English .  The German Expressionist artist led a remarkably unrestricted and most unusual  life travelling all over Europe and to the States including  a long spell in Scandinavia around 1910 before returning to settle in Murnau where she died fifty years ago in 1962. The paintings were very attractive and included still life of domestic scenes and local landscapes.
'Cool Art ' Murnau Civic Centre

                                            'Cool Art ' on the walls of the Murnau Civic Centre

We went along to the Kleines Theatre for a production of the Stauss classic operetta, Die Fledermaus. While some of the voices were a little uneven, the performances were given with great gusto and good humour  and Rosalinde particularly commanded the stage in an impressive manner. The sprechstimme syle of the Rosalinde's lover, Alfred, a  singing teacher brought a comic nuance to the role that was hilarious and would have been sufficient to persuade us to stay for the second half were it not for one aspect of the production.   The abscence of a piano didn't augur well and indeed the production lacked any live accompaniment and while I can understand  and sympathise with the budget constraints on small  companies , the backing tracks used were very unappealing, sounding as if they were produced by strangled accordions rather than any real instrument.  Could we really be in the summer retreat of one  Richard Strauss , one of the pillars of the Romantic music  and in  the country of  the giants of Western classical music tradition. A good student pianist would have been infinitely preferable and being a not inconsiderable proportion of the audience we quietly left.

German Requiem in Castletroy auf Deutsche!

Selig sind, die da Leid tragen, denn sie sollen getrostet werden 

'Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted' .

The liturgical ritual of farewell  has provided the spur for some of the most highly charged and emotional works in the canon and there was a rare opportunity to hear one of the apotheosis of the form by one of the masters of the German Romantic tradition  at University Concert Hall  on Saturday night when Limerick Choral Union dedicated  a performance of Brahm's German Requiem to  members of the choir who have passed away. Sung in the original German, this dramatic setting of the Lutheran text has logistical and practical challenges  being the longest of Brahms works clocking in at about an hour and opportunities to hear it are infrequent.  By coincidence, the work was also performed in the National Concert Hall by the NSO and the RTE Philharmonic Choir the previous evening. The broadcast included an overview of the form in an insightful interval talk by David Vivian Russell  Lyric Concert Friday 20th April

Russell refers to the emphasis in the German Requiem being more on consolation of the living rather than the fate of the dead  and what music of consolation is the fifth movement.  Notoriously difficult for the soloist, the lyric from John's Gospel  was beautifully and effortlessly delivered by soprano Carmel Conway.  Baritone Owen Gilhooly's third movement dialogue with the choir was vigorous yet  smooth ending in a magnificent song of hope and joy. 
Malcolm Green

Johannes Brahms
There was a good house for this  Easter concert with  many family , friends , former members and afficionados in the audience for the programme which included the Italianate Mass for St Cecelia featuring young tenor Eoin Hynes as a complement  to the more substantial German fare.  Among the audience were David Howes,  grandson  and son of  anchor members Harry and  Michael .  David, a Masters student at DIT had earlier in the day been awarded the Todd Cup for oratorio at Feile Liminí with a bass aria from Judas Maccabeus  as had his grandfather 40 years previously. The family were remembering specially  the late Muriel Howes, a  former LCU member who sang with the choir when they last performed the work in 2004.

Percussion at the  ready
Soprano Carmel Conway
Although no aspect of the classical music scene made it into a two page article in the Irish Times  covering Limerick's music scene recently, this was a huge musical  endeavour involving something in the region of 200 people in a  performance no less deserving of acknowledgement and recognition in the national press. As a musician, opportunities to play such great repertoire are so welcome and it was a  thrilling musical experience to savour from the middle of the 50 strong orchestra

Post performance interview with conductor Malcolm Green

Letter to the editor. Irish Times :Limerick's Music Scene
A Christmas Baroque Gala
A Handel for the President

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Monday, April 16, 2012

A German Musical Influence in Cork - Aloys Fleischmann

As part of his college studies, my son was asked to research German influence on Irish society by an individual and I prepared some notes on a former professor of music at UCC, Aloys Fleischmann. Although born of German musical parents in Bavaria, Aloys Fleischmann was raised in Ireland as his father, also Aloys was one of a band of 50 or so church musicians brought to Ireland to invigorate Catholic liturgical music in Ireland. I met Prof. Fleischmann when I played with the Cork Symphony Orchestra

from 1988 to 1990 and these are my personal memories of this remarkable musician.

I was working in the Regional Hospital and each September I would

receive a call from the Professor to say rehearsals were starting and the

orchestra would assemble in a school hall somewhere on the outskirts

of Cork. I was alway surprised and impressed that he undertook this

task himself ina most cheerful manner and he obviously was involved in every aspect of running

this ensemble , and not merely waving the baton.

On arrival, Professor would greet me warmly, partly because he

mistook me for a viola player with a similar name and as always, this

instrument was in short supply . This had a strong influence on my

subsequent acquisition of a viola but sadly not soon enough for the

Cork Symphony Orchestra to benefit from the extension of my string

playing skills, but to my benefit and I remain grateful to him for

the encouragement in this direction. Professor would don a short brown

jacket like a shop keeper might wear and rehearse the orchestra. He

was always gracious and quite formal in his manner of addressing the

orchestra, which in an age of increasing informality, I liked. He was an unusual combination of highbrow and ordinary chap.

At the close of the rehearsal, two more burly members were required to push start his

battered car to get him on the road home. In my memory this was a more

frequent occurrence than perhaps it actually was .

To mark Professor Fleischmann's centenary in 2010, Michael Murphy of Mary Immaculate College, Limerick gave a lecture titled , Virtuosity,

Vehemence, Vigour which I think this is a good summary of this remarkable character.

It was followed by a performance of his work by Voices of Limerick and a convivial reception in the staff room. It was a lovely occasion attended by three of his

daughters and former associates of his at UCC .

My guest was Anne Considine who was a student of Fleischmann's mother, Tilly. herself a concert pianist

I often wonder what the Irish musical landscape would be like without

the influence of these European maestros like de Regge in Clare,

Fleischmann senior in Cork and Bewerunge in Kildare. Much poorer, I

have no doubt.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Guest blogger: Waterford Festival of Learning, Hurling, Blaas, Wine and Song

Festival Junkie Mark Graham with Wanderly Wagon
My guest blogger today is Mark Graham, who is on a mission to cover three festivals a week for a year. I met Mark at Waterford Writers Weekend last month  (you can read his report a Bookish Bonanza Down the Desise  here which includes my contribution)  I always enjoy reading Mark's reports and admire his enthusiasm both for the festival trail and the recording  of the events via his blog.  Last week  he was in his home territory, Waterford, the town in which I grew up. Deise folk are very good at  finding synergies in their activities and  running festivities diverse in range and extent and my blog frequently features events in the South East. The Spraoi  Festival with a weekend of free street entertainment is one of my favourites and indeed, the Spraoi team have become nationwide parade specialists.

 Mark features several  star performers here and a pleasing diversity of activites. John Mullane is the first sports person to feature on my blog and  will need no introduction to GAA followers. For those of you who aren't, Mullane is one of a group of indefatiguable Waterford hurlers known for his passion and 100% commitment over a decade to the county team.  Malcolm Proud may not be so familiar but is a a world renowned harpsichord player and organist . Based in WIT he frequently travels all over Europe to perform in the most prestigious venues collaborating with elite ensembles. His recital with Roisin O Grady was one of my highlights of 2011. Mezzo  Bridget Knowles also features, most recently as soloist in Come the Sails, a choral extravaganza launching the Tall Ships Festival, (also featured in the year's highlights)
Blaas may not be the most distinctive of culinary delights but I notice the exclusive 5 sar resort hotel, Doonbeg Lodge  features them on their menu.
Thanks for the report Mark. It makes me wish I had been there.! You can read the full report and keep up to date with Mark's progress on

Hurling, Blaas, Wine and Song – Waterford Festival of Learning

First up on Tuesday was a lunchtime recital by Bridget Knowles (Mezzo Soprano) and Malcolm Proud (Piano). Who performed two song cycles – seven Spanish folk songs (Siete canciones populares Espanolas) by Manuel de Falla and 7 Shakspeare Songs composed by Madeleine Dring. These are two performers at the very top of their game. I’m no expert when it comes to this kind of music, but the dexterity, fluidity and skill displayed by both performers was impressive. As impressive was the ease with which they performed together – an ebb and flow between both performers that was as natural as the gentle waves that were lapping the beach in an unseasonably sunny Tramore that afternoon. The sun shone on the leafy grounds of the WIT College Street campus and The Cuckoo performed by Bridget and Malcolm fit perfectly.

Three events jumped out at me from the Festival of Learning programme. A wine appreciation class (free grog), the blaa making class (free grub) and the training session with hurler and All Star Legend – John Mullane (cos it had Mullanimal in it!).  Now Gabir butty (my Indonesian subscriber), you may be wondering what a blaa is, and in fairness to you, there are probably some readers from Donegal wondering the same thing. It’s a specific type of bread, only found in Waterford. “Is it like a bap?” is a common question that usually earns a crack on the head with a hurley and a slap on the arse with a crystal salmon. It is nothing like a bap, it’s a f&@kin’ blaa, right!? We don’t have much, so don’t mess with our blaas. The blaa has an ancient history, at the end of the 17th century the Huguenots travelled over from France and on board their ships were a particular strain of goat. The goats fell overboard near Billberry hill in Waterford. These goats had the recipe for this particular type of bread cake and they began making them in their new home. These bread baking goats were so unique that they are now a protected species and they still make the blaas of Waterford to this day. Or something like that…
Blaas straight from the oven

ducked into the Introduction to Wine class and they were in full swing, discussing Beaujolais and the like. I have to be honest here too – I never got wine. Chateau du Clonmel is about where my palate is at. I’ve been in France more often than I’ve been in Fermanagh. I’ve had garcons sit me down in an effort to try and educate me, but alas, to no avail. Beer, cider and buckfast. I can’t help it, I’m a classy dude! But I get that some people have a taste for the stuff and if you have that taste, this was the place for you. There were a good few bottles teed up, cheese, grapes and slivers of apple for cleansing the palate. But there were also buckets for spitting into. Sacrilege! Swallow, don’t spit. Wha?
Wine tasting
If only school had been like this!
I headed up the road to St. Pauls School on Browne’s road, where there was a hurling training session open to young teenagers. No ordinary training session – John Mullane was taking it. Who is John Mullane? Get out, you’re barred!
 d up the road to St. Pauls School on Browne’s road, where there was a hurling training session open to young teenagers. No ordinary training session – John Mullane was taking it. Who is John Mullane? Get out, you’re barred!
John Mullane 
Will Smith me arse! Mullane is Legend.
After a couple of months rest, Mullane returned to the Waterford Senior team last Sunday and helped secure a valuable one point win over Galway. It had been a pretty dismal league performance up to that. To say that I have an interest in the exploits of the Waterford Hurlers is a understatement akin to saying that Shane McGowan needs a couple of fillings. I’ve given up a good deal of things in order to head off to 3 festivals a week for a year – blossoming relationships haven’t come to flower (jaysus, call Mills and Boon!), quiet weekends are non-existent, I stopped playing with two bands and time with family and friends is scarce on the ground. But what’s been killing me over the past couple of months is I haven’t gotten to one league game… and I have a feckin’ season ticket! End of rant ;-) John was in good form and the young lads seemed to be turning it on for their new coach. I was impressed by John knowing the young fellas names as he shouted encouragement to them from the sideline.
John Mullane 
Words of wisdom for the lads
It wasn’t difficult to imagine how the young fellas felt to have John Mullane coaching them, I was excited too! A great opportunity for young lads to get to meet, train and interact with one of the best hurlers in the country.
Tomorrow there is an edible sea-weed hunt out at Kilfarassy Strand and it promises to be a fantatic day for it. I won’t be able to make it out for the Dilisk foraging, but I would if I could. The purpose of the festival is to celebrate learning, highlight the learning opportunities in the City and to show how enjoyable learning can be. Job done! Back on the festival trial tomorrow night, bigging up the French culture – grub, jazz and a little bit of the aul parlez vous. Until next time…
Voyages Sécuritaires, Ne Meurent Pas. ;-)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Passion Sunday Chorale: Gloria and MIC Spring Concert

The last Lenten Sunday began to the temperate treacly tones of broadcaster Tim Thurston as he presented his Sunday morning radio show, Gloria Like a morningtide liturgical Whispering Bob, the LyricFM  presenter shares several  qualities with Bob Harris,  the iconic BBC presenter of the Old Grey Whistle Test. First there is the soothing baritone  voice,  deep and rich like molasses mixed with double cream. Then there is  his zeal for unearthing and eulogising little known  work, in this case sacred choral music with a  particular penchant for Renaissance composers and finally his  good cheer, earnest but in a calm unruffled sort of a way rather than a happy clappy Marty  fashion. Always appropriate to the liturgical calendar, Sunday's playlist included Passion chorales, Allegri's Miserere and Russian Orthodox chants . 

2009 Wexford Festival Choir Excerpts  Theresienmesse. marking 200th anniversary of Haydn's death

In the afternoon I joined the Limerick Baroque Players and the Mary Immaculate Choral Society for their Spring Concert, a performance of Haydn's Theresienmesse at St Mary's Cathedral, Limerick. Not as frequently performed as The Seasons or The Nelson Mass, there is plenty of melodic variety and rhythmic energy, dynamic contrasts to make it a very enjoyable work to play. and comes late in the Classical composer's canon when he was enjoying a degree of notoriety following his London symphonies. The work is apparently a named for the soprano who first sang it rather than for to wife of Haydn's patron for whom it was commissioned.
Soprano Marie Therese ,  1799
The quartet of singers delivered fine singing and there was time for some chat in the green room before the performance. Contralto,  Sarah Ellen Murphy  told me she had enjoyed opening the Kate O Brien weekend recently with a recital of newly composed songs by her friend Fiona Linnane. 
Soprano Carmel Conway 2012

Carmel Conway is a  very versatile performer and she chatted about her experience of touring with American singer Nanci Griffith . Owen Gilhooly has been busy touring with OTC's much lauded  production of The  Magic Flute and can be heard again soon at the Limerick Choral Union's performance of Brahm's Requiem at the end of the month. There was a lot of interest in young Dublin based tenor, Lawrence Thackery a recent prizewinner at the Feis Ceoil . A founder member of  DYOC, I met Lawrence recently in Ennis at a terrific showcase of young operatic talent in Dublin Youth Opera Company's Jukebox Opera , Thicker than Water. (My review here)

 Bass Owen Gilhooly, 

Conductor Michael Murphy

Among the large attendance were Gertie McCabe Secretary of the Irish Church Music Association and Malcolm Green, conductor of Limerick Choral Union.  Great music, splendid singing. elegant venue, the company of musicians . No better way to spend a Lenten Sunday afternoon.
Violin Duo Aine and Karen

Tim Thurston on improvisation and musical sub genres.