Composing the Island, a survey of the last hundred years of classical music in Ireland over three weeks of events opened at the National Concert Hall with a programme of orchestral works titled Irish Rhapsodies.
The RTÉ Concert Orchestra under Kenneth Montgomery gave a good account of works inspired by Irish landscapes written within a decade of the formation of the state in 1922. Perhaps not unjustly neglected masterpieces, but the programme made for an interesting and enjoyable evening of music that most likely would continue to gather dust on library shelves without the impetus of such a project.
Of the three composers, Charles Villiers Stanford was best known. His work, ‘The Fisherman of Lough Neagh and What He Saw’, and ‘Dunluc’e by Norman Hay, were each lyrical one movement works in a pastoral vein. Prominent harp lines and Irish folk tunes gave an Irish blás and they bubbled along pleasantly over the first half of the programme.
It was the work of Ina Boyle from Wicklow that impressed most. Her first symphony titled Glencree completed in 1927 was performed only once in 1945 in a live radio broadcast by Radio Eireann. The harmonic language was colourful. There was refreshing rhythmic energy in parts and assured writing for solo parts, most notably for oboe and cor anglais, well executed by Concert Orchestra principals. Boyle wrote many works including two more symphonies and an opera. Based on tonight’s evidence, her work warrants more than an occasional dust down.
Part of the remit of the project is to leave a legacy after the series concludes and earlier, the John Field Room was packed for the launch of a new book of writings accompanying the series. The Invisible Art: A Century of Music in Ireland 1916 – 2016 gathers numerous essays by diverse commentators in an attractively produced volume edited by Irish Times music critic Michael Dervan. The work will be a valuable and useful addition to any music enthusiast’s library.
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