Classical review: Irish Chamber Orchestra

Ballingarry, Co Limerick

****

A car painted in blocks of green and white greeted visitors to Ballingarry, the small village in Co Limerick last weekend, a talisman to the county hurlers who were soon to take on Wexford in the quarter final of the GAA Championship. Sport, however, wasn’t the only matter generating an air of anticipation in the locality. A little further on, a road sign advertising a concert by another Limerick ensemble begged attention. At the local church, the Parks and Playground Committee were waiting to greet patrons.

In a programme titled ‘Vienna to the Volga’, the Irish Chamber Orchestra presented a programme of classical and romantic repertoire with a witty modern element in two works by 20th century Russian composer Alfred Schnittke. It was a winning combination.

‘Polka’, Schnittke’s anarchic miniature was a hoot — as far removed from the Strauss variety as you could imagine. A prolific film composer, he liked to mix it up on the style front. There was a dance macabre mood in the frenetic finale full of whooshing glissandi and raspy ponticelli. There was more giggles later. In the second Schnittke piece Moz-Art a la Haydn, the ensemble were busy performing all sorts of theatrical manoeuvres before departing the platform a la Haydn’s Farewell Symphony. A wry grin and a raised eyebrow from Malachy Robinson all alone on the platform signalled the end of the play.

There was elegant playing from cellists Aoife NIc Athlaoich and Tim Lowe in a genial Haydn duo. In Tchaikovsky’s popular Serenade, the string ensemble sounded rich and warm and so thoroughly blended as to sound in the tuttis like one instrument. The ensemble under Katherine Hunka played with their customary verve. “They all look so happy as if they are really enjoying themselves up there,” I overheard one patron remark, and indeed the players did appear to relish the occasion as much as the audience. It was good to see this ensemble entertaining home audiences outside their regular home at UCH Limerick.

Sport and music, Ballingarry had all the bases covered last weekend.


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