There wasn’t a spare seat in Cork’s City Hall last Wednesday night for the first major event in the five-day Choral Festival which brings international participants flocking in their thousands to Leeside.
Unusually, though, it was not so much the international factor as something much closer to home that drew the crowds.
For the first time in many decades, Seán Ó Riada’s Mise Éire, the magnificent score composed for George Morrison’s 1959 film, was to be heard in full orchestra, along with original film footage from the Easter Rising.
As an opener, it couldn’t be bettered, and you could have heard a pin drop as conductor Conor Palliser raised his arms and beckoned forth that haunting introductory horn solo, while the first grainy sepia images flickered up on the screen.
For this event, the Mise Éire suite was broken up into sections, interspersed with readings by noted actor Michael Grennell. The words of 1916 leaders came across with heartbreaking simplicity and effect. And yet… one could not but wonder if this was the time and place to interrupt again and again the devastatingly powerful sweep of Ó Riada’s score. Could not the readings have come before or after, allowing the audience to lose itself in the splendid music as a unified piece?
The very founder of the Choral Festival, Aloys Fleischmann, was on the programme too, with the unusual Cornucopia for Horn & Orchestra, composed in the late 60s and showing the maestro’s unceasing drive to experiment, push the boundaries beyond the expected, the everyday.
In this, Cormac Ó hAodáin gave a spectacular performance on the French horn. The concert closed with Gerald Finzi’s very beautiful Intimations of Immortality, inspired by Wordsworth’s poem and performed by tenor Robin Tritschler with the Fleischmann Choir and the CSM Symphony Orchestra. A truly splendid opening to the 62nd Cork International Choral Festival.
The event continues until tomorrow.
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