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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Record Review John F Larchet: Complete Songs and Airs

I first came across the songs of John F Larchet at a recital presented by pianist Niall Kinsella at the John Field Room back in January 2018. ( I was impressed on first hearing with the set of a dozen or so elegant songs in a light-hearted nostalgic vein and was surprised at how little I knew of such appealing repertoire.  With many of the songs out of print, Kinsella did the spade work in gathering the complete set of songs by  a key figure in the Irish Literary revival at the beginning of the 20th century. The next step was to commit the songs to disc. John  F Larchet: Complete Songs and Airs has just been released on the Champs Hill Records. Kinsella is reunited with singers Gavan Ring in baritone mode and mezzo soprano, Raphaela Mangan who sing alternate numbers. The songs are paired with two sets of Irish airs beautifully played by Mia Cooper and Kinsella. (Fans of the TC Kelly arrangements for violin and piano will love these.)  Cooper adds a strand of spirited violin virtuosity also to Padraic the Fiddiler and Verity Simmons adds a melancholy cello obligado to Diarmuid's Lament. The songs spanning Larchet's lifetime vary substantially in style veering from light music evoking the era of  whimsical Edwardian Parlour songs and  the world of Ivor Novello to more  dramatic songs reminiscent of Stanford or Britten. Detailed notes by Andrew Stewart provide context and full lyrics by poets such as Padraic Gregory, Michael Macliammóir, WB Yeats, Emily Lawless and Elizabeth Shane. This is a welcome  to the discography of Irish composers, the culmination of impressive scholarship with  stylish performances highlighting  largely as yet unfamiliar repertoire.

My Favourite Tracks
Love's Question:      Hardress Wyles
A Stoirín Ban   :       Padraic Gregory
Cait Ni Duibhir        Violin and piano air
Wee Hughie              Elizabeth Shane
Padraic the Fiddiler   Padric Gregory

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Behind Closed Doors: Recitals in a Time of Coronavirus

Behind closed doors  in Drogheda (via Susan on twitter)
In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic shutdown, major cultural centres responded  by opening up their digital archives. I had hours of  free entertainment sifting through performances from around the world.  It wasn't unusual to find myself scrambling to catch the end of a Wagnerian epic at breakfast time before it disappeared to make way for another must-see production. While it was a thrill to watch big lavish productions from the Met and Glyndebourne,  more intimate smaller scale events proved an even more effective antidote to the self-isolation blues. Even better if they were filmed in a beautiful historic location like this one from Caramoor, a historic house in Westchester County, USA. Still available to watch here

In the UK, the Wigmore Hall has been doing a fabulous job in extending the walls of the chamber music venue in London's city centre to audiences around the globe. On 26th June, director John Gilhooly broadcast a thoughtful address on the WH digital platform. What a star this man is! Watch it here. At the conclusion, Gilhooly credits the 'exceptional digital production abilities' of Darius Weinberg at WH. After an initial period that saw artists reaching out to their base with home produced videos that helped to keep us connected but suffered from poor sound quality, recent weeks have seen some exciting new ventures with the experience transformed by professional sound reproduction and camera work.

There is a realisation too among the public that there is no such thing as a free event and that it is time to pay the pipers for the tunes. This article by Karlin Lillington in the Irish Times is timely and insightful.

Here are some of the events, I 'attended' this week.

Piano and Wind Quintets in Drogheda: Drogheda Classical Music launched a new initiative spearheaded by director Pauline Ashwood.  A concert filmed at St Peter Church in Drogheda was broadcast live and available to watch on demand for a stated fee on vimeo for three days. On their website, you were directed to buy a ticket for €10 and you could access the performance via the society's web page. Drogheda is a bit far from my base at the best of times and I had never visited this venue, a 19th century Gothic Revival Church. Pianist Finghin Collins was flanked on either side by a quartet of first rank Irish wind players in an hour long programme of sparkling quintets by Mozart and Beethoven. If you want catch that, you'll have to be quick as it is available for just one more day. Details here

Song Recital at Russborough House: 
Fiachra Garvey and Gavan Ring in Russborough House 

The Music Room in the historic house that is home to the Beit Art Collection made an attractive  venue for a recital of popular arias performed by tenor Gavan Ring and pianist Fiachra Garvey with introductions by Liz Nolan of RTE. Again I enjoyed the virtual visit to an unfamiliar venue as much as the musical offering. In a engaging introduction, Garvey informed us that the piano was in fact Alfred Beit's own instrument and being heard for the first time at a West Wicklow Festival event and very fine it sounded too.

With both recitals, the opportunity to nosey around an unique venue was a big part of the attraction. I would have  like the camera to pan around a little more to have a look at the immediate surroundings and maybe to linger a little on some of the pictures in the famous collection that was stolen no less than four times. Here patrons were invited by the host to make a donation to the West Wicklow Festival. That is available to watch indefinitely here

West Cork Chamber Music Festival: This time last year, like  many music fans, I was heading to Bantry. This year 'to soften the blow of losing the 2020 festival' the West Cork Chamber Music Festival has a series of recitals filmed in various European and one American location and is releasing one each evening until July 5th. Looking forward to catching some of the events.
See our Music Archive releases here
See our latest COVID-19 updates here
Yike's: Is this an oboe reed I see before me!

TV Philharmonia: I watched all six episodes of the French TV drama available on Channel 4. A corny whodunnit set in a Parisian Symphony Orchestra with a liberal chunks of classical music woven in to the mix. One reviewer described it as 'hilariously OTT- Acorn Antiques with subtitles'. D'accord! In the later episodes, French horn player Agathe announces her pregnancy to her rival by blasting Helene with a few bars of  her lover's new piece and the appearance of a spurious oboe reed in the main protagonist's dressing room is a portent of murder. 'An ill wind indeed!.  Stuart Jeffries entertaining Guardian review here

I caught the second of Cristín Leach's 4 part programme on the exploration on Ireland and  Irish identity in visual  art  during the last three hundred years. The second episode covering the  representation of famine and the land wars in 19th century was good listening even if it was crying out for the visual dimension of television. Listen here John Bowman delved into the archives to recall Dickens' visits to Ireland

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Lockdown Review

Lockdown Beach Patrol in Ballymacaw

Is it really more than three months already since the sudden shutting down of life as we knew it back in March 12th? That Thursday was a busy day as I shuttled from teaching assignments in a rural primary school and after school commitments at WAMA in Waterford. I had been due to visit Paris at the weekend but the announcement on March 9th that theatre gatherings of more than 1000 were banned had rendered the purpose of the trip invalid and I was already resigned to a weekend at home and even if I am honest, relieved not to have to endure the tribulations of airports and planes. So with the normal routines suspended, I settled into a month of tackling long put off housekeeping tasks and watching an endless round of news briefings to keep up with the progress. Finally after 5 years in my current  address, I had tidy hot press, a clean oven and had even managed to turn out a batch of scones. Now three months later that domestic goddess badge has tarnished and shock horror, all those jobs need doing again already and an unopened carton of buttermilk loiters forlornly in my fridge now well past its sell by date.

Social Distance Recital  with neighbours 2020

                                  It helped that in March and April, we enjoyed clement weather with balmy evenings, so I was in my garden when I heard an unfamiliar sound. What was it, I wondered when as the volume increased, It was birdsong. Quite a trill so to speak. Fortunate to live in a coastal town, the limitations of a 2km walk was no hardship and I walked down lanes and visited spots, I hadn't noticed before despite them being on my doorstep. Chance meetings with friends and acquaintances had a different unhurried pace. Nobody was too busy to stop and chat. In the conversations, a sense of guilt seemed common as voices were dropped to admit that they were enjoying lockdown, the slower pace, car free roads, birdsong all of it.  With the house busy as adult children returned to the nest to work from home, escaping to the garden shed to read became an afternoon ritual for a while. . Three months on, the self imposed routines are sliding and I feel a sense of trepidation as we prepare for a return to some sort of normal routines although still sadly devoid of live music and theatre. I am sore hearted for all the management and artists who have put so much work into planning events and festivals all now for naught. Months and years of hard work with no reward and an uncertain future.

Here are some of my lockdown highlights.
Elaine Power of East Pier with Nevin Maguire

 Food.  First things first. After a month of home cooking, the longing for something I hadn't prepared myself was acute. While I could live quite happily without ever visiting a fine dining restaurant, I prefer not to even contemplate a life without a bag of chips  doused in salt and vinegar, ideally eaten on the prom. There was great excitement in our house when the first of our local chippies opened their doors after more than a month. Best fish and chips so far came from, Elaine Power's East Pier van in Dunmore East. Excellent birthday treat food came from our local Indian restaurant Voujon in Tramore.

With  shops closed and preferring to support my local bookshop than some international behemoth I was thrilled to receive a parcel of books from The Book Centre Waterford all wrapped up in their signature maroon paper. The books I have enjoyed reading so far are Gail Honeyman's debut novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Rose Tremain's Music and Silence, a languid yarn set in the 17th century Danish court and featuring an English lutenist as the main protagonist. Fran O Brien based in Tipperary sent me a couple of her books which she produces as fundraisers for the Laura Lynn Foundation. I enjoyed Ballystrand, a family saga of dark secrets and redemption. My favourite pandemic read was Max Jaffa's autobiography, A Life on the Fiddle, a fascinating memoir on the life of the celebrated English violinist who made a career in light music. I also loved the Ladybird Tales of Superheroes, six traditional stories from around the world with lovely illustrations.

Teaching/ Work.
My experiences with Zoom weren't good and I hesitated to embark on teaching on this or a similar platform. I did however set about making some video tutorials covering some easy Irish tunes

Lockdown Ukuleles: With the prospect of gatherings seeming a long way off and inspired by pop star Bressie I released my classroom set of ukuleles free to anyone willing in my area and posted some video tutorials on the Tramore Ukulele Group fb page. On Friday, I made a tentative return to group activity with a small gathering in my garden. Looking forward to getting together again and thinking about how best to facilitate the group in the weeks and months ahead. Check out the TRUGs activity here It was a pleasure to talk to Damien Tiernan on his morning show on WLR about the initiative. Check out one of the videos here

Online Opera and Music. 
I sifted through some of the myriad of options of cultural events available to watch online for an article in the Irish Examiner Check it out here Opera and Music Events to Enjoy Live at Home The volume and quality of what is available is amazing. Most recently, I tuned in to watch Handel's Rinaldo from Glyndebourne. I wasn't impressed by the mish mash of school blazers and knights in chain mail but the performers were fantastic and it is well worth a listen.

Roberts 3 band radio Great value at €25 at Sound Store
Forced to choose between my TV or my radio, I would be sad to jettison the former but I wouldn't part with the latter. It never ceases to amaze me how accurately the technology reproduces the timbre of individual instruments and voices even on a cheap transistor. Opera Night on Saturdays RTE Lyric is a favourite and weather permitting I like to listen outdoors with the birds swooping and adding an extra dynamic to the score. Highlights have been Siobhan Cleary's Vampirella, Vivaldi's Griselda and Andrew Synnott's Dubliners.
I have been disappointed with the selection of highlights on RTE's  Playback recently, the presenters rarely seem to venture beyond the realm of talk radio heard 9 to 5 on the main station often returning for a second bite of a dull segment. Amongst the most banal clips are usually those from Ray Darcy's afternoon show which we are never spared it seems. I was amused at Ellen Cranitch promising 'no sourdough' in her trailer for Purple Vespertine I assume in response to the tedium of Darcy's coverage of the topic. I am rarely tempted to listen back to programmes. In contrast BBC radio tends to throw its net wider. This week's selection by Julie Hesmondhalgh had me delving into the schedule. It is good to hear regional accents on a country's major broadcast station. The programme opened with a clip of Mullingar lass and soprano extraordinaire Ailish Tynan from her Wigmore Hall lunchtime broadcast on BBC Radio3
Also heard on Radio 3 as well as available to watch online was a fabulous recital by 'two talented Michaels. Michael McHale and Michael Collins have played in Waterford. I loved their programme of 20th century French repertoire with a dazzling interlude by Carl Maria von Weber. I liked Georgia Mann's easy presenting style. Details here

Some of my favourite clips on RTE  radio have been heard on Countrywide presented by Damien O'Reilly. This week we heard the wonderful Seamus O Rourke's piece 'The Drawer' ahead of Father's Day Maithiú Séamus. I had to pinch myself on hearing aging Rolling Stone giving parenting tips on Newstalk with Pat Kenny on how to keep small small children entertained during lockdown. Rock and Roll just ain't what it used to be!

Such are the vagaries of Irish weather, that while a clement April and May saw us outdoors basking in the sun, summer soltice had us retreating indoors and lighting the fire not for any ritualistic purpose but to keep warm. Oh well- there were consolations. On the longest night, I watched another episode of Giovane Montalbana which is my current favourite viewing at least until season 3 of Sucession comes along. It is a bit like Midsummer Murders but in a more exotic location. I had grown a bit weary of the main programme with a surly detective. This prequel showing on BBC 4 is an improvement on the original with a more appealing inspector and it is lovely  viewing at a time when a trip to an Italian seaside is off the agenda.

Muinteoir Ray with Muinteoirí John and Cliodhna
RTE Home School Hub. TV
There was a time when there seemed to be a lot of educational stuff on telly. Insomniacs could brush up on assorted Open University programmes. I remember watching programmes about obscure hsitorical figures, poets and mathematicians late in the night. Draw with Don with Don Conroy was a staple of childrens' TV on RTE but that strand of educational programming disappeared to obscure realms of the internet. What a pity. . I was excited about RTE's in initiative to fill the void left by school closures with a daytime educational programme. It was remarkable how quickly Macalla Teoranta, a media production company manage to get their homeschool programme on air, a mere two weeks I think after the shutdown.  I tuned in initially to gather some tips on good practice and quickly became hooked.  Over 60 or so hour long programmes, the team delivered consistently good programmes covering a wide range of topics. I liked everything about it. I loved that was so many elments but the teachers relied less on high tech teaching resources and more on their excellent communication skills. Special guests added interest along the way but the core team were the stars. So many highlights but off then top of my head, these stick in my mind, astronomer Niamh producing her school science notebooks, M Ray's lesson on how to write a review (I could have done with that when I was starting my jounalistic activity), Muinteoir John's (Sharpson) singing In San Fhásach and M Cliodhna's lesson on silhouette animator, Lotte Reiniger   Hearing an cheerful looking Ray Cuddihy spring onto the set with a cheerful greeting as gaeilge every morning was reassuring. Muinteoir John was occasionally joined by Dolores (his guitar) for some brilliant music lessons and Muintoeir Cliodhna closed out with some very messy art work that I was glad I wouldn't be required to reproduce. It was  a pitch perfect production for the time in which it was broadcast and probably won't have a long shelf life which makes it all the more special . Comhgairdeachas!  Maith sibh go léir to all involved It was fantastic I confess I wept on the last day, my tears wiped away by my grown up child who had taken a coffee break to watch with  mother. Truly it is a strange time!

I had some lovely engagements during lockdown. I was chuffed to be invited by neighbours to play outside my gate. on a a couple of balmy Summer evening . (Image above)

It was an honour to be invited by St Joseph's Retirement Home in Ferrybank to be the first guest entertainer on their new home channel. I played in the  studio set up in the hall and the performance was broadcast to all the residents rooms.

Thank you Tracy at Waterford Libraries for commissioning me to record some musical snippets around Tramore  here is one of them. Four clips appeared on the Waterford Libraries facebook page as part of their Bealtaine initiative. The Japanese gardens looked stunning on the morning I visited

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Fidleir's Airs: Easter Snow

On any given Easter Sunday, I would normally gravitate to a church whether at home or abroad.  I feel privileged to have experienced wonderful sacred music on travels to Europe. In recent years, Misteria Paschalia, a festival of Baroque Sacred Music in Krakow in the city's sacred spaces was a highlight. In Munich, while opera was the draw, it was the wonderful liturgical music in the Bavarian capital's churches that  lives longest in my memory. This time last year, I found myself at the Basilica Notre Dame du Roncier in the picturesque Breton town, Josselin on the Nantes-Brest Canal. A little burst of the bells heard there As a musician, it was wonderful to be part of the liturgical music at home be it in the parish church at Dunboyne, Ennis Cathedral and more recently at Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in the wonderful Georgian Cathedral in Waterford. This year, I couldn't quite reconcile myself to broadcasts from empty churches and contented myself with a gawk at the Archbishop of Canterbury's kitchen during his skype address on BBC TV.

For  my home recording on Easter Sunday morning 2020, I looked for a suitable air  and turned to no 105 in Traditional Slow Airs of Ireland .Easter Snow seemed on the face of it to be appropriate. The air, I learned was a favourite of piper  Seamus Ennis, and he named his caravan home in the Naul after this air. I listened to a recording that  his daughter Catherine made playing organ with  piper Liam Og O Flynn. I couldn't find a vocal version that closely matched the tune in my volume of Irish Airs in Tomás O Canainn's collection.  I particularly liked Hull based multi instrumentalist Wolfy O Hare's  brisk version on tin whistle and at the other end of the tempo scale, Fiachra o Corragáin has a beautiful languid  version on harp all available to watch on youtube. More information on the air from the Clare Library website here.
The title however  has nothing to do with Easter but is an anglicisation of an Irish placename in Co. Roscommon. The original name Diseart Nuadhan (St. Nuadha's Hermitage) evolved through Issertnowne to Estersnowe and now quite frequently Easter Snow. Christy Moore wrote a song titled Easter Snow as a tribute to Seamus Ennis.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Fidleir's Airs: Caoineadh na dTrí Muire

With some time in hand, I have it in mind to embark on a musical project that has been percolating for a while. I have always enjoyed playing the slow airs associated with the Irish bardic tradition. I plan to take a closer look at this treasure trove with a view to expanding my own repertoire and delving a little into the provenance of the tunes and so on. My main source is Tomás Ó Cannain's Traditional Slow Airs of Ireland which has over a hundred airs . The first video specifically for this project was recorded on Good Friday and looking for a suitable air to chime with  the day, I chose No 10, Caoineadh na dTrí Muire. I think it was Séamus Ennis who said the key to playing slow airs was to know at least a couple of lines of the sean nós version. I tried to match the phrasing of Iarla O Lionaird's version. The song was particularly associated with Joe Heaney and I include an extract from the Joe Heaney's archive website. A different air appears under the title in the Veritas Hymnal but the tune turns up later in the volume in another Easter hymn, An tAiséirí. In a verse in the Veritas version, Mary calls on two women who share her name,   to assist in the keening "Gabh i leith a dhá Mhuire go gcaoine sibh mo ghrá liom"  

The video setting was a Marian Grotto in Tramore in my neighbourhood. I hadn't visited this garden before the corona virus made me look more closely at what was on my doorstep. The garden is a lovely tranquil space tended by Mr Tony Hanlon.

"As Angela Partridge points out, the title by which this lament is known in Joe’s native Carna is Caoineadh na Páise (The Passion Lament). However, he accepted the title Caoineadh na dTrí Muire, which was given to the song following his first public performance of it in Dublin (Partridge, op. cit., 31). Caoineadh na dTrí Muire was a title associated with the song/poem in County Mayo. Versions from Donegal, Clare, Cavan, Kerry and Cork have also been recorded.
The song is best understood as a conversation between a number of participants including Peter, Jesus, the Blessed Virgin, and the Roman soldiers. This device advances the story with the greatest possible economy, allowing us to focus on the emotional intensity of each moment, from the viciousness of the soldiers to the disbelief and distress of Mary and finally to the quiet stoicism of Jesus, offering comfort to his distraught mother.
This is surely the most famous of the songs that Joe brought to public notice, and one of his own favourites. Along with Amhrán na Páise and Oíche Nollag, this lament reveals his deep reverence both for the spirituality of the subject-matter and for the tradition that his grandmother and others like her held up for her grandchildren and her community every year. As Máirtín Ó Cadhain wrote following Joe’s first public performance of this song in Dublin, In Caoineadh na dtrí Muire he brings home to us the joys and sorrows of Mary with the intimacy and poignancy of a Fra Angelico painting (quoted in Angela Partridge, Caoineadh na dTrí Muire: Téama na Páise i bhFilíocht Bhéil na Gaeilge, Dublin 1983, 4)."

Detail of vVctorian stained glass church window in Fringford depicting St. Mary with two other women under the cross on the first Good Friday

A Pheadair, a Aspail,
An bhfaca tú mo ghrá geal?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Chonaic mé ar ball é,
Gá chéasadh ag an ngarda.
Óchón agus óchón-ó!

Cé hé an fear breá sin
Ar Chrann na Páise?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
An é n-aithníonn tú do Mhac,
A Mháthrín?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!

An é sin an Maicín
A hoileadh in ucht Mháire?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
An é sin an Maicín
A rugadh insan stábla?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!

An é sin an Maicín
A d'iompair mé trí ráithe?
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
A Mhicín mhúirneach,
Tá do bhéal 's do shróinín gearrtha,
Óchón agus óchón-ó!

Cuireadh tairní maola
trína chosa 's trína lámha,
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Cuireadh an tsleá
Trína bhrollach álainn.
Óchón agus óchón-ó!
Óchón agus óchón

Monday, February 24, 2020

Midterm Ramblings

Stormy weather and inertia put plans for an excursion on hold. So I stayed at home for the midterm break. However there was plenty of diversion in Waterford and I enjoyed that sense of being on holiday at home. Here is a roundup of the highlights.

Piano Virtuoso at the Large Room. Belfast native, Michael McHale was in Waterford on Thursday and it was heartening to see a a good turn out of 80+ patrons in the Large Room for a terrific performance. McHale addressed the audience adding some asides to the programme notes. The Chopin pieces, we learned were all dedicated to Charlotte Rothschild. It was a busy day for McHale with two recitals in different counties. Fortunately he had a driver and he acknowledged the support of his parents in fulfilling his engagements. It added to the general cheer to have Carmel and Noel McHale among the audience. I have on occasion, turned pages for Michael but there was no need for a page turner on Thursday as the entire programme was performed from memory. As we have come expect from a player at home in the best international venues, the playing was wonderfully
colourful and expressive. The jazz flourish of McHales's own interpretation of Danny Boy was a thrilling close to
the evening.

Check out McHales' tips for practicing pianist taken at the Steinway C piano in Waterford City Hall

Programme: Beethoven Moonlight Sonata;  Chopin Waltz, Mazurka, Ballade;
                     Beethoven Apassionata Sonata; John Field Nocturne; Irish Airs arr McHale My Lagan Love, Cailin O Cois tSuire Me ; Rigoletto paraphrase Liszt  Encore Danny Boy

The Mall was a hive of activity on Thursday. Across the road in the Waterford Crystal Centre, I caught the final stage of a spoken word event.  Ex-RTE presenters, Ciana Campbell and Michael Murphy  were reading from Murphy's book of poetry, The Ministry of Dreams as part of Project Music's programme of events. There was good stuff too in the Reg where a young man with a guitar was singing soulful ballads for midweek patrons.

10 Dark Secrets of 1798 Paddy Cullivan

While the Blues conceded to Bohemians, Paddy Cullivan formerly of the Late late Show House band was in action at Central Arts. His show wasn't quite what I was expecting. Opening and closing with a song performed to a backing track, Cullivan delivered an detailed illustrated lecture. The device of covering a lot of material in ten chunks worked quite well. There was no doubting the lengthy research or Cullivan's passion for the subject but I found it too long  for quite depressing content and yes, I think  I would have liked another song or two. With this format, I wondered might Cullivan fare better on the regular history talk series say in the Medieval Museum rather than at a less attentive Friday night gig audience.

Guitar Night
Duo Cry Monster Cry

Navan native Pat Coldrick brought an easy listening set list to the Theatre Royal. Down the road in  Central Arts, two brothers Jamie and Richie Martin AKA  Cry Monster Cry dropped off on a nationwide tour to present a sombre set tinged with nostalgia. There was a smack of the Everly Brothers in the effortless close harmonies and the jangle of mandolin and banjo gave it a folkie edge. It was all very mellow. A cover of Springsteen's Dancing in the Dark was one of the few uptempo numbers. Check them out here

Radio Highlight of the week. 

Monday, February 10, 2020

Hansel and Gretel at The Abbey

Weather warnings for Storm Chiara were up as  Walsh and Irish rugby fans sheltered in the pubs around Abbey Street, I made my way to the Abbey for the opening of INO's latest production, a collaboration with Theatre Lovett in Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel at The Abbey Theatre 
A film-noirish set, a hardworking ensemble and a lively translation were the strengths of Irish National Opera’s new production of Hansel and Gretel. Directors, Muireann Ahearn and Louis Lovett move the Grimm Brothers’ dark tale from a traditional woodland setting to a surreal hotel occupied with residents dressed in Jamie Vartan’s post-Edwardian period costumes. Musicians make an entrance taking up their positions in the ‘foyer’ salon ensemble in tightly choreographed movement. A spotlight falls on a French Horn player (Liam Duffy) as he appears on a balcony delivering the most exposed of solos in the overture. The roles of Sandman and Dew Fairy are combined in the guise of an cabaret singer a la Dietrich sung by Emma Nash. Raymond Keane’s silent antics as Night Watchman added to the spooky, dreamlike mood.

The singing is good across the ensemble although the dry acoustic in the auditorium seemed to rob voices of some of their warmth. Amy Ní Fhearraigh and Raphaela Mangan play the children who are banished to the Haunted Woods Bar. Miriam Murphy and Ben McAteer’s bring a comic horror physicality to their portrayal as the feckless parents. Carolyn Dobbin has the most fun as the Witch revelling in David Pountneys’ colourful libretto. Richard Pierson directed the six other musicians from the piano in his own reduction of the score. The acoustic here favoured the wind and brass timbres with strings sounding  a bit thin without the oomph of a cello or double bass. The eerie pre-recorded voices of RTE Cór na nÓg worked very well in representing the disembodied voices of the Lost Children.

There was an enthusiastic reception from the first night audience that included a substantial proportion of youngsters.  This is a novel production, on the dark side but unlikely to give anyone nightmares. There are 5 more performances at the Abbey this week followed by a nine-venue nationwide tour. It is puzzling that given the target is a family audience that there are no matinée performances scheduled. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

History Matters in Dunhill

By John Hartery

It was  noted before in this blog that history talks bring crowds and it was proven again  at Dunhill Multi-Education Centre, no mean achievement on a dark and wintry January evening. Dunhill is an example of a community that's vibrant with a large range of local education and entrepreneurial activities amongst other initiatives. 

The lectures  come under the banner of The Julian Walton Winter Lecture Series and is now in its 14th Year. Walton is of course the doyen of historians in the region with an impressive track record of broadcasting and writing on historical topics many with a local flavour.

The Dunhill schedule  of talks run on a weekly basis on Thursday nights with a fiver admission charge and a cuppa and chat afterwards. Topics tend to have a local bias but placed  the context of wider history.

Tony Benn's memorial to Emily Davison
Last week's talk by Niamh Crowley had a full house for 'Women, The Vote and Waterford'. it was quite a wide-ranging talk tracing  the Suffragette movement in the UK and USA to local Waterford women who helped smash the glass ceiling. Archive footage and pictures illustrated the path taken to secure votes for all women (and some men) finally  in the late 1920s. Ireland in fact in the vanguard in granting the franchise to everybody. 

The Epsom Derby event and Emily Davison was noted and an interesting clip of what happened  

Davison was also famous for hiding out in the House of Commons to feature there in the census. An occasion finally acknowledged there by a plaque placed by Tony Benn an act  subsequently chronicled by Reg Meuross

Many women used the census of 1911 to voice their views on no votes for women. Crowley illustrated the census returns of a trio of Waterford women active in pursuit of the vote; Lily Poole, Dr Mary Strangman and Rosamund Jacobson.

There's plenty of talks coming up  in the Dunhill lecture series and something for all tastes

Dunhill History Lectures with Julian Walton - Series XIV - 2020

The series will run for ten weeks, every Thursday from 9 January to 12 March. Lectures are held at Dunhill Multi-Education Centre (opposite the GAA grounds).
Starting at 8 p.m., each lecture lasts about an hour and is followed by a question & answer session and light refreshments.
9 Jan Julian Walton: “Eaten by a hog”: The early history of Kilmeadan
16 Jan Liam Suipéal: Coastal Place names from Dungarvan to Youghal - an illustrated talk on our coastal heritage.
23 Jan Niamh Crowley: Women, the vote, and Waterford
30 Jan Julian Walton: The Hore family of Dungarvan
6 Feb William Fraher: Visualising the past: Waterford County Museum’s photographic archive
13 Feb Julian Walton: Charles Newport Bolton (1816-1884) – artist, genealogist, and historian of Waterford Harbour
20 Feb Christina Knight O’Connor and Eddie Cantwell: Investigations at Gallows Hill, Dungarvan - a community archaeology project
27 Feb Dave Pollock: Finding medieval Stradbally
5 March Eugene Broderick: Thomas Meagher (1789?-1874): the forgotten father of Thomas Francis Meagher
12 March Julian Walton: A surprise!

Friday, January 24, 2020

London Calling 2020

Every now and then, I pine for the buzz that a big city can offer and can't resist the impulse to jump on a plane for London so conveniently close to us on the east coast of Ireland. The appeal was explored in this BBC radio programme by Mark Tully quoting a diverse range of authors in a celebration of the big city from William Blake to Suzanne Vega and from New Orleans jazz to William Wordsworth. London seemed the same as ever. Brexit wiped off the headlines by the announcement of Harry and Meghan's departure. I spent four nights in central London visiting old haunts and finding some new ones. A little roundup of my experiences here.

Play at Kilburn:  The Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn High Road has had a name change. The complex housing a cinema, bar and restaurant as well as a theatre with a town hall feel was lively on Thursday night. It is now  known as The Kiln. I saw Mike Bartlett's play Snowflake here. Although it was well reviewed, I found this three-hander based on the rift between a father and daughter with a Brexit theme a bit yawn inducing. Guardian review by Michale Billington here The Black Lion across the road is an impressive pub for a post show pint.

Pete Atkin at Pheasantry wity songs of the late Clive James

The Songs of Clive James and Peter Atkin: A bittersweet evening as Clive Jame's song writing partner accompanied by pianist Simon Wallace played  some of the songs the duo had produced in five decades of collaboration at the clubby ambience of the basement lounge of, The Pheasantry- a Pizza Express venue on King's Rd Chelsea. The staff managed to deftly serve pizza and drinks without interrupting the flow. A radio programme on the duo here.

Troy Exhibition at The British Museum; With a magnificent atrium, The British Museum is for my money the most impressive public building in London. A special exhibition of all things to do with Troy. Lots of ceramics, marbles and paintings. Best of all were the books, early print editions of translations of Homer's Iliad and hand written volumes with notes in the margins, many from a collection at Buckingham Palace.

Shopping: Enjoyed browsing in the Victorian building housing a Waterstone's branch on Gower Street. Lots of literary events listed

Ballet: The Red Shoe's based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale was playing at Sadler's Wells in Islington. A gorgeous production to a Bernard Hermann score. Ballet Rambert were showing off what they could do at an open rehearsal of a forthcoming production (Aisha and Abhaya) at the Royal Opera House. The house is open during to the day to have a wander around. The viewing balcony allows views over the area and a peak into the costume workrooms. I enjoyed a pie and a pint in the Red Lion in Islington near Sadler's Wells amid punters in  to watch Saturday football.

Pub Theatre
Canal Cafe Theatre has a long running revue programme in the style of Beyond the Fringe over a pub in Little Venice. It was hilarious. with topical sketches riffing on the latest news.

Cast here 

Edward Bartram, Gabrielle de Saumarez, Luke Francis and Emily-Rose Clarkson.
Directed by Sam Sheldon.
Musical Direction by Richard Baker.

Curtains: Musical
I saw Curtains by Kander and Ebb on the last night at Wyndham's Theatre in the West End before it went on tour. It was very charming and witty. There were strong performances not least from Jason Manford as the stage struck detective. Mark Lawson's review here Definitely worth seeing if not a must-see.

Westminster Cathedral: Music for the 10.30 liturgy included a motet from Handel's Messiah- And the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed; settings by Renaissance composer Christopher Tye and an organ voluntary by Buxtehude. All was not happy it seems in the Cathedral Music Dept and the newsletter carried news of the sudden departure of music master Martin Baker, it appears in a clash over changes to the timetable. More here in a Guardian article

The magazine carried a feature on the late Colin Mawby who was of course well known from his work with RTE choirs in Dublin. Artcicle from Oremus here

Busker Trafalgar Sq
The newsletter also carried a list of raffle prizes still to be claimed included; champagne, chocolates, M&S vouchers, 'Festive Pandoro Cake' and a 'donkey'! I suppose might be hard to house a donkey in your average London dwelling.


Pooch, Pie and Pint in Islington