Classical review: Crossings: Vanbrugh Quartet and Friends

Ionad Cultúrtha, Baile Mhúirne


It was with a huge sense of anticipation that I approached this landmark collaboration between the internationally renowned Vanbrugh Quartet, inimitable vocalist Iarla Ó Lionáird, and contemporary Irish composers who are steeped in the traditional music of Ireland. I looked forward to, at last, hearing the dreams of Seán Ó Riada being realised.

Ó Riada was just one of the many, many Irish composers of the last century who hoped to do for music in Ireland what Bartok in Hungary and Piazzola in Argentina (to mention just two), had done for music in their countries, ie, integrate the folk music of their lands with the great European ‘art music’ tradition… as is successfully being done by composers in China today.

It was with a heavy heart that I left the lovely, intimate Cultural Centre in mid-Cork. Of the four works on the programme, only one seemed to me to hold the promise of ultimate success in this endeavour.

Dave Flynn’s four-movement work entitled ‘The Cranning’ is imaginative, tremendously exciting, and technically demanding on the players.

His use of string effects, viz, pizzicato, glissando, and, especially, his ability to create intriguing instrumental colours (often suggesting the sound of uilleann pipes), meant that one’s ear was constantly fascinated by the sounds being produced rather than by the music that called forth these sounds.

Unfortunately, Linda Buckley’s work, a song-cycle of love poems, composed for, and passionately sung by, Iarla Ó Lionáird left me completely baffled. No text was provided in the programme notes and the Gaelic text was unintelligible, even to Gaelic scholars, so I did not know what the composer was intending to convey.

Niall Vallely’s ‘Throughother’ brought concertina, flute, uilleann pipes and fiddle players to join the quartet in what occasionally promised great things but then developed into an unconvincing mish-mash of styles that relied heavily on seemingly endless repetition.

Seán Doherty’s ‘The Devil’s Dream’ quartet rescued the night for me. This wonderfully imaginative, colourful work successfully, I believe, ‘crossed’ the perceived boundary. Ó Riada would have, I imagine, approved.



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