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

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Roll Over O'Beethoven

Rod Goodall  narrator in Music for Galway's Beethoven: Genius, Passion & the Irish Connection

Osiris Trio
Charlotte Riedijk, soprano
Rebecca Capova, piano
Robin Tritschler, tenor
Rod Goodall, narrator 

Music for Galway presented an impressive  pool of international artists in a weekend of celebration of the life and works of Beethoven. But It wasn't the promise of 'Genius' or 'Passion' that had me  bound  for the last event  titled 'The Pulse of an Irishman' at the Town Hall Theatre. Nothing out of the ordinary there as concert programmes go  but rather the words Beethoven and Irish on the same line of the mini festival's title, Beethoven : Genius, Passion &the Irish Connection .  Not something you see too often.

The afternoon concert opened with some chamber music. Rebecca Cápóva delivered Eleven Bagatelles Opus 119 with precision and verve and  we heard a fine rendition of the  Ghost Trio played by the Osiris Piano Trio from the Netherlands.  So far , so continental. The Irish connection came after the interval in the form of a set of songs and a dramatic reading of Beethoven's letters in translations by a local Galway academic, Emily Anderson  Although Thomas Moore is generally accepted to have been the major player in bringing  Irish songs to a world wide audience, I was surprised to learn that the Teutonic titan  had a significant part in improving our cultural image in 19th century Europe when he accepted a commission to arrange  a collection of Irish airs from George Thomson, of the Scottish Board of Encouragement of the Arts. In a talk  'Beethoven and Ireland' , given to Radio Eirinn in 1947 John Hennig reports that it was actually poet Robbie Burns, one of a dozen poets engaged to provide lyrics, who pointed out that many of the melodies were in fact Irish and persuaded Thomson they would be more 'saleable' marketed as such .   A sum of £100 was agreed for Beethoven to extend his work on a set of Scottish airs and duly  in 1814 'A Select Collection of Irish Airs for the Voice united to characteristic English Poetry written for this work with Symphonies and Accompaniments for the pianoforte, violin and violoncello composed by Beethoven' was published in Edinburgh.  Beethoven must have seen a European market for them as Hennig tells us  he reserved the European publishing rights for himself. Although Beethoven requested the words so he could 'effect the correct expression' but he did not have them to hand when composing the accompaniments which seems extraordinary ..

            Och! I have you not heard, Pat, of many a joke
That's made by the wits 'gainst your own country folk;
They may talk of our bulls, but it must be confest,
That, of all the bullmakers, John Bull is the best.

Robin Tritschler
Judging by the ten songs we heard on Sunday afternoon, it seems 'The Pulse of an Irishman' as any  showband musician will tell you beats most often  in triple time.Some of the melodies were  familiar from settings by Moore and popular folk songs . The melody for  Oh My Dear Dermot was  that of Moore's Avenging and Bright  and  the lively tune of  Bhios La PortLairge turns up  unexpectedly in He Promises Me at Parting. The humour and rhythm of English Bull reminded me of  a Percy French   or even Gilbert & Sullivan number, the genteel drawing room lyrics playful and at times sentimental.  The vocal delivery of soprano Patricia Reidijk (looking splendid in red taffeta)   didn't quite match the frivolity of the lyrics of the opening  Elfin Fairies  and she was at her best in the more wistful numbers.  BBC New Generation Artist, Robin Tritschler's style seemed effortless and nicely understated , no more so than on No More My Mary. Like  delicious sweets I felt a twinge of regret when the song set  was all unwrapped  and felt I could have enjoyed a few more which is not exactly the emotion I felt  when I last got to the end of the 9th Symphony. What sets the songs  apart from the Moore arrangements are the elegant and sophisticated violin and cello lines. It seems the complexity of the arrangements was the subject of some argument between the composer and commissioner but Thomson seems to have been very happy with the collaboration and had this to say in the preface

'If Carolan the Irish Bard would raise his head and hear his own melodies sung with Beethoven's accompaniments,  he would idolise the artist who could produce such exquisitely coloured and highly finished pictures  This is flattering to the melodies of Ireland and will be received no less favourably '  

The proceedings opened with a presentation of a commissioned sculpture by John Behan to the outgoing artistic director of Music for Galway, composer Jane O Leary for her dedication over 32 years to the society. There are not many artistic communities who claim have such  continuity in their stewardship. Pianist Finghin Collins is to take over as new artistic director and we wish him well in the role.
To Jane O Leary
'Thank you for your artistic vision, inspiration and dedication to Music for Galway' 

Who we met : Pianist Jan Cap had travelled from Cork to support his daughter Rebecca.. We met Pádhraig Campbell,  environmental campaigner in the very spacious and elegant cafe space upstairs. Cellist Adrian Mantu updated me on the Con Tempo's next engagement in Headford on Thurs. I had a chat with Robin Tritschler who spoke about the exciting  opportunities to perform unusual repertoire that were coming his way by virtue of being a BBC New Generation Artist.  Britten's Illuminations and  a teenage work Quatre Chansons Francaises are in the pipeline. We met  board member Ludmilla Snigireva  and Executive Officer, Anna Lardi Fogarty of the MfG committee who was clearly delighted with the weekend and  busy wrapping up the formalities and bidding adieu to the the festival goers in the foyer. We liked  the  afternoon time slot making it possible to travel to and from Galway by bus during daylight hours. 

Curtain Call Artists with Director Jane O Leary

Elfin Fairies
No more, my Mary
Judy, lovely, matchless creature
They bid me slight my Dermot dear (duet
 Oh! would I were but that sweet linnet (duet)
English Bulls 
Oh Who My Dear Dermot 
He promised me at parting (duet)
The Hero May Perish 
By the Side of the Shannon 

Related Articles 'Listen to This' Author at Galway Arts Festival

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Castle Proms at 6MB Winter Music Weekend

The Voice Squad in Great Hall photo Mark Graham

'It's like being on Grafton Street ' said Phil Callery of The Voice Squad in the
medieval Great Hall in Bunratty Castle during their set as part of the annual Winter Music Weekend .  It

might seem like a strange comparison but there was indeed an element of indoor busking  as young and old,  weekend day trippers, sight seeing tourists and music lovers promenaded through the lofty dimly lit, medieval  hall  at times invading the performers space during their set on a pale wintry afternoon  The three man acapella group, seemed unperturbed and are happily reformed with all the original members after a  break of some years, their distinctive pure blend of voices still sounding as rich and satisfying as the creamiest caramelised rice pudding.  I spoke to Gerry Cullen following the gig about the resurgence of singing clubs. Aficionados present included Mr Year of Festivals, Mark Graham and photographer Christy McNamara They were followed by Two Time Polka, a six piece spicy,  cajun stew of a line up, featuring mandolin and accordion /concertina. This was a rare opportunity to hear them without the thick varnish of amplification giving altogether a more delicate auditory experience.   Some of the vocal introductions  of both groups were lost in the large space but it was a price worth paying if only for Ray  Barron's wistful rendition of Across the Universe on mandolin. Sometimes less is more.
photo Mark Graham 

This was, I believe, the second year that the Folk Park and castle were used as part of the annual Shannonside Winter Music Weekend hosted by the Sixmilebridge Folk Club and it seems a perfect synergy with a confluence of performing spaces of varying degrees of size, accessibility and comfort. I found it easier to stay in one venue  and didn't venture beyond the castle but musicians I spoke to reported that they enjoyed playing in The Barn.   There was a resonance with my own  past as it was my first visit back to the Hall where I performed  myself in my first summer job. I was accompanied by my daughter, she now the age I was then when I sat  in a long gúna waiting as the harpist began the tortuous process of tuning up. Those corkscrew staircases didn't seem so quite narrow back then.
Two Time Polka  photo Mark  Graham 

Saturday night in the pub venues in Sixmilebridge is not for the faint hearted and even though I was looking forward to hearing both bands on the bill,  I  beat an early retreat from the Mill Bar as American band Special Consensus were tuning up.  At ten o clock the venue was thronged  making any movement very difficult. Although two bands were advertised for 9.30, the first scheduled band did not take to the stage 'til almost 11pm, (a  raucous duo were belting out folk covers in the interim) by which time the consensus among  my party was that the degree of discomfort  was too great to stay any longer and we bailed out.  One of the problems was that although The Mill is a large space, with the placement of the stage right at the back, a large proportion of the audience have a restricted view of the performers. Being Saturday night, the pub was full of people who naturally want to chat and it did not make for  good listening . Although this was a write off in  gig going experiences, I enjoyed one of the best bluegrass gigs of last year at the same venue last month. You can read about it here . Driving home Niall Toner with his finger on the musical pulse echoed the live experience on the airwaves playing Special Consensus just as they were starting their set in Clare and followed up with a track from The Voice Squad.
Gypsy Rebel Rabble in Cellar Bunratty Castle photo M Graham 
Special Consensus are currently on an extensive tour  dates here and the Voice Squad play in Kinvara on January 26th

Related Posts
 La Savoy at Sixmilebridge WMW 2012

Sliabh Notes at WMW 2011

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Clare Poets Gather at Glór

The first monthly gathering of the Clare  Three-Legged Stool poetry group met at the Glor arts centre in Ennis . You can hear the chairman talk about the group in Audioboo below. I went along and enjoyed the many different voices reading from their work. Guest poet, Mike Douse was a wonderful reader of his own work.  He opened with a set of poems in a style of iconic poets including Kipling, Yeats and Shakespeare. Peter Kay played musical interludes on keyboard and there were a variety of voices heard at the open mike section. I met artist Francis Bailey who tells me that she is working on some large canvases for a forthcoming exhibition in a Limerick cathedral.

Here is a link to a report of the proceedings on the group's own site

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Verdi Nights at Bavarian State Opera

Rigoletto Chorus with onstage brass band 

Vassallo front Dean Power right
The weather in  Munich was unseasonably mild and sunny  where I enjoyed a Verdi splurge at the State Opera House at two quite different productions in  the composer's 200th anniversary year . The cameras  were in place on Sunday night for the free live transmission of the performance of Rigoletto via the world wide web, a very welcome development. Nothing though can beat the live experience and although the house was sold out for weeks for this much anticipated new production,  I went along 'on spec' to see could I find a seat on the night. There was no returns queue but about an hour and a quarter before curtain up, about a dozen or so punters appeared in the gloaming and hovered on the front steps near the Maximillian Strasse end, doing a little circle  dance around each other to see who was buying and selling, the more seasoned punters  holding up signs declaring 'suche karte'. When at  last one of the huge doors ( the second door in  for future reference)  opened to admit opera goers, I made a bee line for the Abendkasse and soon after, I was on my way to a seat underneath the ceiling with a birds eye view of the fabulous retractable chandelier.
Post Show Analysis

The singing  was superb. Baritone  Franco Vassallo imbued the title role with great pathos. Star tenor Joseph Calleja lived up to expectations and soprano Patricia Petibon  glided  angelically around the upper register. Clarecastle tenor,  Dean Power  had a notable stage  presence  in the role of courtier Borsa Matteo.  Even at a distance, a sense of verve and dynamism emanated from the lively dancing baton of musical director, the ubiquitous Marco Amiliato .  
While the singing did not disappoint, the production lacked a certain theatricality.  The huge 100+  male cast and chorus in cream linen mounted on a tiered steps looked like a photo shoot  for  an M&S summer suit collection. Nor did the Duke look very menacing dressed more  for an autumnal day of gardening  than a spot of philandering in cosy beige cardigan and matching track suit bottoms. One can't help wondering did the Maltese tenor raise an eyebrow when he was handed a flowery dressing gown for his tryst with blue jean clad Gilda. (You knew the Duke had had his wicked way when Gilda appeared in the next scene in the same robe).  An antique wheelchair was assassin  Sparafucile's (Dimitry Ivashchenko) prop to convey his victims to the the next world. Sit in for a spin and you were doomed. Nothing in the lighting or staging  made you shiver at  the sinister  elements of the plot. A gigantic prancing horse made a brief appearance and looked impressive but it's relevance  was lost on me 

The opera house has such  splendid glittering  halls for promenading about  that  I was almost  sorry there was only one interval each evening, There was great style, lots of family groups and quite a few drindel dresses and the dress code was relatively formal. On our way out I noticed a gathering of  patrons  for a Q&A  with a representative of the team.  I  would love to be able  report the nuance of the debate but even without a grasp of German, one could guess by the tone and body language that these were somewhat disgruntled patrons. My source, a seasoned punter whom I met  on the steps earlier. told  me that the general tenor of the discussion was that although very musical, it had been a concert performance and not  quite living up to the hype and expectation of a generous six week rehearsal schedule. 

Aida was altogether a more theatrical affair although a similarly nuetral  palette of black, cream and white prevailed with  a smattering of gold for royalty.  The on stage trumpets looked and sounded splendid Sandra Radvonosky as Aida was impressive and I liked the Finnish bass, Mika Kares as Ramfis.  Robert Dean Smith as Radames sounded grand but didn't quite have the look of a battle honed warrior despite the costume. The battle scene was brief and  a little perfunctory and the choreography of the dance elements was in a  modern dance  style that jarred a little with a traditional look and feel to the production

Look at those shoes!
Programme Cover

 While top price stalls tickets are over €100, I purchased a standing room  ticket online for  €11.50 which is incredible value by any reckoning. But addicted now to the  element of chance and the thrill in picking up a last hour ticket on the steps, I sold my ticket and traded up to  the relative comfort of a seat in the second balcony. I  had a fairly restricted view but for the price of little more than a cinema ticket at €14 one couldn't feel too hard done by. What did baffle me were the choice of photos in the background programme notes. Where I expected maybe a montage of great artists or historic figures of the past, instead there were rather grungy photos of bare torsoed young males that looked more like  adverts for a brand of jeans or underwear than images for a premier  opera house production. 
Set Aida Staatsoper 

The dates for the next free live screenings are below.. I will be linking up my laptop to the telly for these dates and if it won't be the same at least I can put my feet up and  switch on the English subtitles

Scene photos from Staatsoper website   Related posts A Night at the Bavarian State Opera 2010

Live Opera Broadcasts to an Armchair near You

Aida Cast

Conductor Paolo Carignani 
staging Christof Nel 
Conceptual consulting Martina Jochem 
stage Jens Kilian 
Costumes Ilse Welter Fox 
Choreographic work Valenti Rocamora i Torà 
light winter Olaf 
Choir Sören Eckhoff 
dramaturgy Olaf A. Schmitt. 

Amneris Anna Smirnova 
Aida Sondra Radvanovsky 
Radames Robert Dean Smith 
Ramfis Mika Kares 
Amonasro Michael Volle 
The King Goran Jurić 

March 9, 2013
Leoš Janáček

April 20, 2013
Richard Wagner
Der fliegende Holländer

May 11, 2013
Giuseppe Verdi

June 1, 2013
Terence Kohler

July 2013
Stream from the Munich Opera Festival
To be announced