Playlists – March 2016

Gramophone Tue 1st March 2016

Recent Irish Music

Liam Cagney chooses 10 pieces connected with Ireland’s recent history

This year marks the centenary of the Easter Rising in Ireland, the rebellion that led to the founding of the Irish State. Commemorations are duly filling the cultural calendar. My playlist salutes the range and vibrancy of music coming from this small island in recent years.

Donnacha Dennehy’s That the Night Come sets lyric poetry by WB Yeats to exquisite effect. In Am Koppenplatz, Garrett Sholdice, one of the most talented of the youngest Irish generation, evokes a quiet moment in a Berlin park. Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest, by turns zany, lambent and melancholy, shows an opera composer at the peak of his strength. Kevin Volans, though born in South Africa, has been an Irish citizen since the 1990s, and his White Man Sleeps pulsates with dance rhythms. Raymond Deane’s Ripieno, named after a term from Baroque music, invokes tradition while sidestepping pastiche. Gráinne Mulvey’s Etude No 1 creates drama from technical prowess.

As you’d expect, Irish composers continue to draw inspiration from Irish literature: Jane O’Leary’s riverrun at once references James Joyce and the flow of Dublin’s river Liffey; Frank Corcoran, here represented by the lugubrious opening movement of his Symphony No 3, also closely engages with Joyce; while John Buckley’s The Silver Apples of the Moon, the Golden Apples of the Sun is inspired by Yeats’s poetry. Finally, Scott McLaughlin’s raucous Whitewater for saxophone and electronics points to the noisier end of the scale, which many young Irish composers are exploring.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto

To coincide with Steven Isserlis’s fine new version, Andrew Achenbach explore’s the work’s history on record

How do you like your Elgar Cello Concerto? A full-on emotional rollercoaster? Or do you prefer a more restrained approach? Steven Isserlis for one inclines to the latter view; indeed, there can have been few more judicious advocates of this illimitably touching masterwork, and the earlier of his two versions (with Richard Hickox and the LSO) comes close to the ideal in its unforced emotional candour. Recent years have seen a clutch of really fine contenders who heed the ‘less is more’ axiom: Paul Watkins (who enjoys particularly distinguished support from Sir Andrew Davis), Li-Wei Qin, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Zuill Bailey and Jian Wang. By contrast, Alisa Weilerstein, in her no-holds-barred collaboration with Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin, seems to take her cue from the legendary Jacqueline du Pré, although, as with du Pré’s uncomfortably febrile and wayward live Philadelphia remake, she doesn’t always avoid the charge of over-egging the pudding – a pitfall, by the way, she conspicuously avoids in her stunningly eloquent performance of the Dvořák Concerto with Jiří Bĕlohlávek. No, if it’s big-hearted temperament allied to outsize personality you’re after, try instead Pablo Casals’s combustible 1945 partnership with the ever-sympathetic Boult. And don’t deprive yourself of experiencing the composer’s own inimitable 1928 recording with Beatrice Harrison – in some ways it’s still the most affectingly vulnerable of all.

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