It was a compelling evening, brimming with emotion, as Wexford Sinfonia orchestra premiered a new work, Heroes of the Helen Blake, by Liam Bates, to a capacity house. The concert marked the centenary of the sinking of the Norwegian vessel, The Mexico, off the Wexford coast and the bravery of the lifeboat crew. Author Eoin Colfer read from his late father’s account of the tragedy.
The work in five movements was full of colour and drama, written in a rich, post-Romantic, film-score style. The parallels with Vaughan Williams were apparent in the use of sea shanties. The hymn tune, ‘Hail Queen of Heaven,’ was the main theme of the opening movement, and was echoed later. The second movement, ‘Strength and Grace’, opened with the clearer texture of a solo clarinet line set against scurrying string motifs and delicate, harp accompaniment.
An unusual battery of percussion instruments created the dark, menacing mood of the third movement. The clang of a ship’s propeller, rusty metal plates and a ship’s bell rang out several times. Bass-drum rolls, and a poignant horn solo, evoked the ‘Vale of Tears’ in the fourth movement. In the final movement, a male voice choir rose to sing a simple unison setting of the composer’s poem, ‘To Bring Them Home’. This was exciting, well-crafted symphonic writing, teeming with ideas.
The players of the Wexford Sinfonia were up to the demands of the collage-like score.
There was much to enjoy in their account of a pair of Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suites echoing the Norwegian theme.
At the close, the audience rose to their feet in heartfelt applause. Bearers of medals for bravery, issued by the King of Norway, proudly posed for photos with conductor and composer, Bates.
It was appropriate that we stepped into wind and rain as we left the building, a reminder of the elements faced by the lifeboat volunteers of every coastal town. This was a fitting paean to them all.
Star Rating: 4/5
By Declan Townsend
This recital showcased an intense, energetic and polished performance by the Vanbrugh Quartet. Beethoven’s relatively brief quartet, Op 95 in F minor (which Beethoven subtitled ‘Serioso’), was written at a period of great emotional turmoil in his life. It demands a level of emotional response from performers that is every bit as intense as that required for the final quartets, and this is exactly what we heard.
Right from the opening angry unison outburst, through the emotional sobs in the second subject and the mysterious, sinuous Allegretto, to the explosive opening of the Allegro assai, the concentrated energy never slackens. The trio provides space for contemplation but the final movement, bearing the instruction ‘Agitato’ and filled with violent dynamic contrasts, sums up the essence of the work. This performance was crisp, beautifully balanced, and perfectly judged by superb performers, at the top of their game.
Hugh Tinney joined the Vanbrugh Quartet for the world premiere of CS (Stephen) L Parker’s seven-movement Piano Quintet. I waited in vain through the first movement for a significant musical idea but each promising fragment just melted away.
Throughout this over-long, rambling, inoffensive work I failed to discern any semblance of structure or development of ideas. I was reminded of a bee seeking nectar, fruitlessly flitting from blossom to blossom. The blooms remain beautiful but yield nothing.
Catherine Leonard was the marvellously impressive soloist in Chausson’s curiously-titled ‘Concert’ for Violin and Piano Quintet, the latter matching her brilliance with equal commitment.
Marvellous tunes (well worked out), brilliant scoring that involved every player equally, and emotion worn unashamedly on the sleeve ensured that listeners were carried along on a continuous wave of music that was deeply satisfying.
Beginning with Tinney’s rich, decisive opening, answered by equally committed quartet playing, Leonard soared like an eagle and all travelled on an exciting, emotional roller-coaster that never let up until the final chord.
Star Rating: 4/5