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

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Good Grief: Limerick Choral Union Easter Concert

Spirestone Mary Coll, Fiona Linnane
Che Faro  Gluck   sung by Sarah Ellen Murphy
It is ennough  Mendelssohn   Gyula Nagy
Laudate Dominum Mozart    Franzita Whelan 
Stabat Mater  Verdi             tenor Julian Hubard 
Requiem  Mozart  

Good Friday marked a milestone in an epic music  project in Limerick.   One hundred and fifty musicians and singers took to the UCH stage to perform a programme resonant with the grief laden day that was in it.  The concert by Limerick Choral Union and Orchestra marked 50 years of consistently adding to the cultural soundscape of Limerick- a remarkable achievement. I was privileged to be in the orchestra for the occasion and witnessed the final stages of the resurrection of  these sacred gems for  a full house in Limerick's largest auditorium. The evening opened with a new work by Fiona Linnane and Mary Coll prefacing  a selection of of Classical and Romantic choral pieces under conductor Malcolm Green. Mozart's Requiem is familiar to me from the movie, Amadeus and it was exciting  to finally get a chance to get inside the work as a musician.
LCU Conductor Malcolm Green in rehearsal with soprano Franzita Whelan

Over the years, LCU concerts have given Limerick audiences an opportunity to hear singers in the early stages of their professional careers alongside  more seasoned performers. On Friday we heard the much lauded soprano, Franzita Whelan with one of Limerick's own  favourite performers, Sarah Ellen Murphy. New kids on the block were two singers from the Opera Theatre Company stable.  Hungarian baritone, Gyula Nagy is one of the current crop of Young Associate Artists and English tenor, Julian Hubbard will feature in the cast of the Weills political opera, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahogany which comes to the Olympia stage in June as part of a collaboration between OTC and  Rough Magic Theatre Company.

No shelter under City of Culture Umbrellla for LCU

Given that the endeavour ticked   many cultural boxes, engaging truckloads of local performers and offering a quality programme at modest cost ,a platform for professional singers, airing of new work by a local composer etc, it was surprising that the concert was not included on the programme of the City of Culture. I have commented here before about the lack of print media attention of main stream classical events in Limerick but it seems surprising to see this well organised and hard working outfit marginalized by a local cultural initiative in a year when they might have benefited from the head wind of such  an acknowledgement. You can read a local press piece here

** Despite an busy international and national career, it was my first time to hear Franzita Whelan who is one of select group to have represented Ireland in the Cardiff singer of the World competition (2001).  She was given a most  favourable mention in a letter to the Irish Times back in 2005, which must have had the RTE musicians squirming.  I often use this in my pre-concert pep talks for my students. You can read that  letter, 'NSO and Beethoven'  below.  Judging by the audience response, it seems that the ladies and gentlemen of Limerick Choral Union and our soloists on this occasion know very well the difference between playing and performing and hopefully will continue to do so long after the dust settles on the  City of Culture hoopla.

Last minute of concert followed by sustained applause from 1min in.

    The NSO and Beethoven - Letter to the editor Irish Times 17th May 2005

Madam, - What is the matter with the National Symphony Orchestra? It takes hard work to make Beethoven's ninth symphony sound dull, but there were moments in last Friday's performance which were almost torpor inducing.
The orchestra looked bored and this attitude was more than reflected in the music. Matters were not helped by poor co-ordination and a horn section that at times struggled to hit the higher notes with any semblance of accuracy. The soloists, with the sole exception of Franzita Whelan, looked glum; Ms Whelan at least looked as if she were singing an ode to joy.
The evening was redeemed only by the magnificent singing of the choir who, apart from Ms Whelan, looked as if they were the only people on stage who were actually enjoying themselves. They deserved their standing ovation, which is more than can be said for their accompanists.
Next time the Bavarian Radio Orchestra is in town, the members of the NSO should be made to sit in the front rows in order that they can observe the difference between playing and performing. - Yours, etc.,

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ceiliuradh Royal Albert Hall: Some musings

On TV : Ceiliuradh, a concert produced by Philip King at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the State visit of Michael D Higgins featured a familiar line up of Irish artists with an emphasis on traditional performers. Dermot O Leary did a good job of presenting. I wish I could say, I loved it but  it it was all a  bit too maudlin to strike the keynote of celebration and the evening had an awkward feeling of forced informality about it for my taste. Moreover,  it didn't succeed fully in the central objective -to adequately represent the Irish artistic community in Britain . Here is the quote from the official government press release -Ceiliúradh (Celebration) will showcase the strong artistic and creative links that exist between Ireland and the United Kingdom, as well as recognising the significant contribution of the Irish community in Britain

To begin with the positive:  Some of the items worked better than others . Neil Martin's arrangement of Moore's melodies moving from the West Ocean String Quartet's rendition of Silent O Moyle  segueing into a massed band version of Minstrel Boy with the bands of a UK regiment, the Irish Gurads and the Irish Defence Forces Band  seemed best to celebrate an element of shared culture and to fully exploit the scale of the venue. Perhaps you had to be there but, nine minutes of the come all ye,  prison song, from Behan's 'Quare Fella' The Auld Triangle might be fun in Jordan's pub on Tuesday night after a few pints but seemed to be indulgent and not at all that appropriate in the formality of the huge crushed velvet clad interior.  Elvis Costello's song,  Tripwire seemed an odd and gloomy choice of metaphor to introduce to the procedings. Was it some kind of political statement? Who knows. It  just didn't feel right to me. Glen Hansard's dirgy song, Falling Slowly is hardly an upbeat addition. It  is the only song you are banned from playing on Waltons' show room pianos apparently  and has surely outlived it's shelf life. The Gloaming, with an American  (note -not British) / Irish line up, who have had fans tweet swooning over their tasteful minimalist approach, were saved til last but 'their songs of yearning in progressive style' fell flat when a bit of good old fashioned, cheerful barn storming  was called for to close out the procedings.

 If a key element of the event was to celebrate Irish contribution to British culture, where were the Irish artists, first and second generation,  embedded in British Society forging successful careers in the UK? Apart from Fiona Shaw, organist, Catherine Ennis and Elvis Costello most musicians on the bill, as far as I am aware have their feet firmly planted on the old sod. Yes Lisa Hannigan resides in London as does Imelda May now but neither could be identified as having made a significant contribution to that scene  or to be identified as  part of the diaspora  just yet.

BBC Young Generation Artist Robin Tritschler

I am always surprised that the successes of Irish classical artists resident abroad tend not to be given that much attention at home. At risk of sounding like the grumpy old aunt muttering about the 'cousin with a grand voice not invited to sing at a wedding', here are a few artists that I felt merited  an airing . Robin Tritschler, chosen as one of the BBC Young Generation Artists, a select group designated by a BBC seal of approval as being extra special .
Mezzo soprano, Ailish Tynan soprano is no stranger to the Albert Hall having performed there frequently at the Proms. and consistently elicits rave reviews from the British and international press. Violinist, Rita Manning based in London led the Academy of Saint Martin in the Fields Orchestra, one of the most coveted positions in the classical music milieu,  frequently appearing as a soloist. Might not James Galway, an icon of the music industry have done a turn? There are several young Irish singers making Royal Opera House debuts this year,  A call to Donagh Collins, CEO of  the prestigious Askonas Holt artists management agencies or John Gilhooly the CEO of the Wigmore Hall, the premier chamber music venue in London, would have opened up a healthy address book of artists doing us proud in the UK without the need to resort to charter a plane for the same old, same old  familiar  Montrose faces.
Irish mezzo Ailish Tynan performing at Desert Island Discs 70th anniv Proms 

Too European  Classical you might say.  Well- On the folk scene, while I note the presence of John Carty, the London born fiddler among the house band players, there wasn't a sense of communion  with the English trad and folk scene where you wouldn't have to dig too hard to find an Irish connection.  A browse through the nominees of the BBC Folk awards would have yielded some likely contenders. Clannad and  Martin Carty, were given lifetime achievement awards  at this event in this very venue a few weeks ago.  My personal pick would have been Manchester fiddle player, Gerry Diver, stalwart of the English folk scene, whose thought provoking Speech Project gathered an eclectic ensemble of top class musicians  based in the UK.  Indeed, Diver paid homage to Martin Hayes on the project.  While critically very well received and more avant garde and multifaceted in many respects than the Gloaming, my own experience was that it was not well supported by audiences in Clare where I heard the ensemble, a bastion of Irish traditional music. Perhaps the  Irish love to go out and sing the songs but are not too receptive  to an overseas diaspora singing them back to us.  I was interested to read this  in a 2010 article by Toner Quin What about England 

We have arrived at a moment in which the stunning music of the English folk scene cannot be ignored any longer. Its strength and depth means collaborations between new young generations of English, Scottish and Irish musicians are surely around the corner, a cultural development that can only bring the traditionally acrimonious divisions between the peoples of these two islands forward. It hasn’t happened yet in any high-profile performance, nor is it evident in recordings, -  

While the encouraging political gestures all point to a healing of the political divisions, by including predominantly well known Irish and American musicians in the line up of musicians, I can't help but feel that Ceiliuradh missed an opportunity  both to acknowledge Irish elements on the British scene and to  heal a perceived disconnect with English traditional artists.

Related post Proms debut for Irish trio at Billy Budd

Stew of Complexity Gerry Diver  and The Speech Project at Glór

Sunday Roundup from the South East

Michael Collins at Watergate Theatre  Kilkenny 

 Amid a general tide of emotion and national pride as Ireland reveled in events in London as our best boy, President Higgins was invited to star in Come Dine With Me, the House of Windsor version, it seemed  timely in an odd way to finally see Michael Collins, the musical. It is not every day that you find a musical theatre piece based on political figures set amid a bloody backdrop of civil war. That's more usually in the opera bag. Think of all those Risorgimento Verdi pieces for starters.

 I hadn't rushed to see this work written by Waterford man, Bryan Flynn when it was first produced in Cork in 2008. Judging by the rave reviews, I felt sure it would have a long run and tour. But despite the plaudits, it had a relatively short run, a few weeks in Cork and Dublin rather than months and then dropped out of circulation until it was revived recently by some amateur companies. So I  wasted no time and made a beeline for the Watergate Theatre for the Kilkenny Musical Society production on Tuesday night, lest it escape me again. It was good to see the Sold Out sign across the front of house billboard and I was fortunate to snaffle a return.

My expectations were high but I was not disappointed.   The resonance with 'Les Mis' is undeniable. There were  rousing anthemic unison choruses of the under trodden class mixed with the sparser keyboard accompaniment of the romantic ballads. Latin American rhythms abound. Add in uilleann pipes, (presumably recorded ) and whistle to add a Celtic flavour to the mix Kilkenny Musical Society did the show  justice and as well as I could imagine it being done.  All the stops were pulled out. The sets were elaborate, the sombre lighting and dry iccreating the gloom of a pre electirified Ireland. Michael Hayes was a charismatic and vocally strong Big Fella . Kevina Hayes looked terrific in the elegant 1920's costumes. Eoin Fingleton as Harry Boland was convincing in moving form earnest companion to bitter jilted lover. I liked that there was a degree of nuance to the characterization of the main players. Neither Dev or Collins are portrayed in simple black and white terms.

Perhaps it was the added piquancy of the days events in the UK but I have rarely seen the level of concentration over the course of an evening's theatre. The acid test --two teenage girls on my left sat engrossed throughout without once reaching to check their text messages. At the final curtain, the audience quickly rose to their feet in sustained applause.

For my ears, the sound was over amplified particularly in the large choruses and it took me a while to get used to the decibel level. Most of the sound appeared to arrive synthezised through the speakers giving the impression of a backing track. rather than a live band The clarinet timbre was the most effective in travelling directly from the pit musician (Stephen Mackey) to our ears.

The theatre was buzzing.  Kilkenny Musical Society representatives were front of house to meet and greet and there were those lovely china tea cups and a reviving cup of tea  in the convivial upstairs Gallery Bar at the interval . A remarkable show and what an achievement for one man, to have produced words and music. It surely deserves future airings and maybe a touring production. Bravo Bryan Flynn!

Spirited Swiss Duo at Christchurch Stunning is an overused word but Rachel Kolly d'Alba, acclaimed Swiss violin virtuoso was just that at Christchurch on Wednesday. You can read my report of the evening here.  What a pity, the audience was sparser than an artist of this calibre merited.

Schools Out Final Matinéé
On Friday, I bid adieu to my students at Holy Family Senior School  Ennis with a matineé performance with  all 80 students in 4th class. I am so very proud of them all. Over the last three years, 250 children class violin lessons as part of their regular school curriculum. I hope that for some of them, it will be a start of a journey and for all of them, the experience of playing in an ensemble even for a short time will have been a happy and positive one for them as it was for me. Bravo boys and girls.!

On TV : Ceiliúradh, a concert produced by Philip King at the Royal Albert Hall as part of the State visit of Michael D Higgins featured a familiar line up of Irish artists with an emphasis on traditional performers.  I feel that it didn't quite succeed in it's brief . You can read my full report on  Ceiliuradh at the Royal Albert Hall are in this post here.

Looking forward next week to being in UCH Limerick as part of the orchestra for Limerick Choral Union's 50th anniversary.performance on Good Friday Tickets are going fast I hear for the sacred programme. of Mozart, Verdi and a new piece by Fiona Linnane and Mary Coll called Firestone. The soloists include Julian Hubbard, Opera Theatre Company young artist Gyula Nagy, Limerick mezzo, Sarah Ellen Murphy and soprano Franzita Whelan. The orchestra began to take shape at today's rehearsal under Malcolm Green.

Related post Limerick Choral Union Handel for the President 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

White House Poetry Night Limerick

By John Hartery

In the heart of Limerick City but a million miles away from the politics and big budgets of the City of Culture there's a timeless tradition going about its business  in the White House pub.

 A bunch of writers gather to read their work to each other and to those who are there just to listen.

An impromptu running order is developed. The poets proceed to the stage when called and recite their own work or that of others.
Last week there were poems of loss, violence, a very funny one about Elvis still hiding out in Limerick and one as gaeilge. For the week that was in it, the Percy French poem about the Queen's After Dinner Speech was given an excellent airing.

Interestingly, some read from dog-eared copybooks, some from those new-fangled, pesky smart phones and others recited from memory.

The event is free you can buy a drink at the bar and there's complimentary hot snacks thrown in. 

Bravo to all involved and long may it run.

You can read a report on their  bard brethren the Three Legged Stool Poets  from across the Shannon here 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The French Connection: Spirited Swiss Duo at Christchurch

Rachel Kolly D'Alba  & Christian Chamorel at Christchurch Cathedral 

Fauré  Sonata in A 
Chausson Poeme op 25
Franck Sonata in A 
Raymond Deane Petit Phrase
Ravel Tzigane 

 Hearing  Suzy Klein interview Swiss violin and piano  pairing on a BBC radio programme ahead of their Wigmore Hall performance last week had heightened my sense of anticipation for Rachel Kolly d'Alba and Christian Chamorel's appearance in Christchurch Cathedral,  Waterford tonight. It did not quite prepare me though for the full impact of the live experience    It is not often we get to hear an authentic 18th century Strad. in Waterford but I suspect that the flame haired virtuoso could have made a factory Skylark sound sizzling.  The hallmark of this virtuoso  is not so much an genteel beauty of tone,  but more an unbridled, full blooded and  triumphant playing style that makes you cling on  to the side of your pew. With Chamorel,  they made a bracing pair of duetists with never a dull moment.

I was too late to hear more than the end of the Fauré but the rhapsodic Chausson was plenty hearty fare  to be going on with. The work was composed, the programme notes by Pat O Kelly informed us, at the behest of  French virtuoso, Ysaye. A second A major Sonata, composed as a wedding present for the same Ysaye, by Cesar Frank formed the mainstay of the second half.  A work by Raymond Deane was included with the customary opaque programme note. Petite Phrase  in Deane's own words was 'defined by the productive friction of contradictions' with some  allusion or other to Proust.  This was followed by a refreshing burst of violin  showmanship in Ravel's gypsy rhapsody, Tzigane.

Dressed in  a  vivid  floor length emerald green frock, Kolly d'Alba cut a colourful and  vibrant figure that could have stepped from a Pre Raphaelite canvas.  Have a look at the video for a glimpse at what you missed. If you are  the South East, you can still catch them in Wexford on Friday .  Among the afficionados we met were pianist Finghin Collins who has performed at Chamorel's Mont Musical Festival in Lausanne. It was  to good to meet local resident  violin virtuoso Teresa Costello of Waterford Concert Orchestra.

The pair are on an extensive tour that takes them to Donegal, Cork, Wexford and Dublin Full dates here

Venue Notes: I like a 7.30 start time but it is escaping patrons attention, particularly when the rest of the tour dates are at 8pm . A significant percentage of the audience missed the opening sontata which was a pity. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Immersed with The Drowned Man in Paddington

Here's the deal: You turn up at a disused 19th century postal warehouse in Paddington in West London. You hand over your ticket, you put on a mask the same as all the other attendees. You  cautiously enter a darkened corridor. You enter a lift where a creepy guy, in character, briefs you on the plot line Then, for three hours you wander amongst a series of large spaces and observe a series of mis-matched scenes played out by actors who pop up all over the place. All this in a set jammed with superb 1960's americana.

Not your average night at the theatre. This is what they call immersion theatre and this production was delivered by the Royal National Theatre and Punchdrunk

Drowned Man - A Hollywood Fable tells the tale  of the movie business the actors, the starlets, the femme fatale, the wannabees, the supporting cast. Along the way, there's a couple of murders, drug-taking, a detox, a cabaret etc, etc. The key thing about the show is everybody's experience is different. It's all
Audience mask
conducted in semi-darknessss. the actors say their piece and then dash away. Do you follow them or stay in your spot? This approach means you're quickly separated from your companions.
In the plot, I understand that there are two key murders in  Temple Studios. I only saw one. But does it matter? I'm not so sure as I was inevitably following other action. The succession of scenes are dramatic and the anonymous audience is right in the mix. Actors barge you out the way to get to their spots. Documents are exchanged and you get the chance to read them as the actors do. You follow a character to another scene but get distracted by a more attractive scene.

The production is directed and wonderfully choreographed by Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle.

I thought it was wonderful and will have to return to see that other murder!

John Hartery.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Not A Game For Boys -Phoenix and Red Kettle at Central Hall Waterford

The  great unwritten rule in sport is  'what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room'. Those fine people at Red Kettle have teamed up with the new Phoenix Productions to deliver the Simon Block play, NOT A GAME FOR BOYS and it breaks that rule. And that rarest of props the support jockstrap features.

The play is a comedy drama based in London. It's a three-hander and is set in the dressing room of a table tennis match. The characters are a group of taxi drivers, members of a team, who compete in the local leagues. We observe an evening when a crucial relegation battle is about to commence in the Premier league. There's a nice nod to Waterford audience as the team is called the London Deise Cabs.

It's a very funny work as the characters interact as alternative  duos whilst the 3rd member competes. There's plenty of dressing room male banter as they prepare for the game.

 Kieran Doyle gave a masterclass as Eric the heart of the team who is obsessed with maintaining his team's status whilst juggling domestic issues with his wife and mother at home. He brought a great intensity to the role and his comic timing was excellent. Trevor Somers as Oscar was the  mysterious one of the trio, Stephen Forristal fresh from a backseat  romantic joust with 'a fare up the Aldwych' is further bothered by a demanding partner from home. The cast has a fine body of theatrical experience and it shows.

Ben Hennessey directs  and does a fine job balancing the comedy and drama. The sound featured music from the mid 90's. I felt some off-screen sound from the competitive tables might have enhanced the atmosphere.

Great to see the Central Hall used again for live theatre and supporting Phoenix. The chance to carry a beverage from Jordan's is another draw.

Not just for boys, this is a  very funny play with  good acting. Recommended.

The play runs till 12th April.

By John Hartery