GRÁINNE MULVEY: “Akanos” = Akanos; Shifting Colours; Steel-Grey Splinters; The Gift of Freedom; Soundscape III; Syzygy; The Seafarer– Lithuanian Nat. Sym. Orch./Robertas Ŝervenikas /Joe O’Farrell, flute/Matthew Schellhorn, p./Elizabeth Hilliard, sop./Annette Cleary, cello – Navona Records NV5943, 75:21 [Distr. by Naxos], (2/25/14) **1/2:
Gráinne Mulvey is another new name for me. She was born in Dublin and studied with Nicola LeFanu at the University of York in 1999. Mulvey was appointed Head of Composition at Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music and Drama in 2001 and has wide experience of teaching from beginners to doctoral level. She has also been involved with composition outreach educational workshops throughout Ireland and in 2001 and again in 2010 served on the adjudicator’s panel for the Guido d’Arezzo Composers’ Composition Competition in Italy. Her cello and tape piece Syzygy has been reviewed in Musicology Review Volume 6 and her Trinity Fanfare for two trumpets and organ is published by Prairie Dawg Press, New York. Her choral works Dead Earth and Sanctus will be published in 2014 by Sulasol Press. Her trio bassoon piece Rí Rá is also due to be published.
This collection of her works serves as a very fine introduction to her work and she is a clearly talented composer with a very unique vision. A problem with these pieces might be that these are very academic and complex works that probably appeal most to listeners who are used to very complex and abstract material. On her own website, Mulvey states that “I don’t look for the easy way out – I enjoy solving musical problems and relish a challenge.” Some of this is discernible in the listening.
I personally enjoyed the opening work Akanos for orchestra the most, but in part because of my admiration of colorful orchestral scores. It is a thorny, dense work with an ominous tone that I did enjoy.
It seems that Mulvey writes a fair amount of music for acoustic sources together with electronics. For example, there are two works for flute and tape; Shifting Colours and Soundscape III, both performed convincingly by Joe O’Farrell. I liked both somewhat but especially the Soundscape III for its chattering lines between the flute and the electronics. It did sound a bit like the cackling of shore birds within some wind to me.
The two songs for soprano and tape are a very interesting pair. The Gift of Freedom is essentially a vocalise but the blend of the voice with this exact electronic portion is a bit disturbing and quite eerie. I felt similarly about The Seafarer. There is a more pronounced melodic line in The Seafarer that carries the work and it is actually quite pretty in places. These are both highly atmospheric works to be sure but which on the whole seem very abstract.
In the electronics realm, the one work for cello, Syzygy, is a very strange blend of string sound and electronics that mirror timbres and harmonics it seems. It actually was my favorite of the electronic works included here but I must say there is still a sense of the old “avant-garde” at work.
Lastly, Steel-Grey Splinters for solo piano was an interesting work that uses a lot of the lowest end of the piano and the very muddiest of resonances and pedal tones in a fairly effective way. However, the work did not ultimately leave a strong positive impression.
Ultimately, I am not sure what to make of Ms. Mulvey’s music. I do believe that there is ample creativity and skill at work. She is – by today’s standards – a bit of a maverick composer, it seems, whose music still contains the cluster chords, the abstraction, the sound effects and the sort of systems approach that reminded me, actually, of a lot of what “new music” in the 1970s and 1980s conjured up.
I do not mean this as a complaint necessarily but I have to honestly say that I was not totally engaged by this music. I feel that these works would certainly disorient any listener far less accustomed to “modern” music than those for whom these pieces may appeal.