Music For All Seasons

Gothic: new piano music from Ireland is the title of a métier records CD (msv28549) released by the Divine Art recordings group this past year (2014). It features the New Music specialist Mary Dullea, playing pieces by Ed Bennett, Benjamin Dwyer, David Fennessy, Frank Lyons, John McLachlan, Gráinne Mulvey and Jonathan Mangle, all seven Irish, all seven young talents, all under 40, all but one male, each and every one writing original music that explores the technical and musical possibilities of the piano.

Ed Bennett authors Gothic , which is both the title of his eight-minute study in overtones and sympathetic vibrations and the title of the CD. The piece is mysterious, off-beat, calling for the pianist to do some humming and some percussive playing of cluster chords that alternate with tremolos and trills in the upper register of the keyboard. The effect achieved by Ms. Dullea’s authoritative playing and vocalizing is eerie and consonant with the composer’s intention to draw an image of “… a huge, resonant space.”

David Fennessy’s the first thing, the last thing and everything in between is a memorial to the late Scottish poet and playwright Tom McGrath. The composer hints at his intentions, saying that “…lingering in the resonance of the repeated piano chords you might be able to make out some of the Aria from Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’…”

The composition is tonal, quiet, meditative, reflecting on the absence of a beloved friend, and quite affecting. grow quiet gradually by Jonathan Nangle builds on a brief (5 minute) composition utilizing two chords that morph, interact, and repeat within minimalist parameters, all to great effect.

Tease , for piano and live electronics, is the work of Frank Lyons. Structured in twelve short movements (which can be played in any sequence) that lead to a brief coda, the teasing involves eliciting and coaxing from the piano sounds created by plucking, hitting, strumming and scratching the strings inside the piano, knocking on the outside of the instrument, depressing but not striking certain keys while playing others, and by a coordinated use of the sustaining pedal.

Ms. Dullea excels in this piece, dedicated to her by the composer, creating sounds akin to those of a Japanese Samisen, a harpsichord, a celesta, a glockenspiel and, once in a while, a piano, and executing intricate rhythmic patterns that would not be out of place in an Indian raga.

Nine , by John McLachlan, by far the lengthiest composition in the album clocks in at just over fourteen minutes. The work is made up of nine miniatures, given titles in Italian, Spanish, Sanskrit, Greek, Latin and Finnish. The titles hint at what’s to come: harp…scale…bliss…waves…cloud…golden…illusion…hiccup…hurry . The style of each little piece sends one’s imagination and musical memory reeling, some of them evoking French Impressionism, some jazzy in feel, some reminiscent of the miniatures for piano of Webern, and none of them in any way, shape or form derivative.

Etude, by Gráinne Mulvey is in four parts: three sections, each with its own melodic and rhythmic and harmonic agenda, all three united by a chord sequence that unites them, the last followed by a brief and lively coda.

The CD closes with Benjamin Dwyer’s Homenaje a Maurice Ohana . It is a sober and at times somber work, as the composer himself hints: “…a series of heavy chords which I have always associated with falling tombstones.” The mood is Spanish, but not sunny, the movements are titled in Spanish. The music is sparse, at times desolate, like many of the landscapes of southern Spain. Dwyer’s background as a guitarist of note is in evidence.

All in all this is a very fine sampler of new music from Ireland, all of it excellently played by Mary Dullea. The CD was recorded at Catalia Hall, Ballytobin, County Kilkenny, Ireland in 2014, engineered and produced by Chris Corrigan. The sound is excellent and intimate.

—Rafael de Acha