"Reflections" — Works of CASTANOS, O'LEARY, GARDNER, RING, YI – Concorde Contemp. Music Ens. – Navona

by | Sep 30, 2011 | Classical CD Reviews

‘REFLECTIONS’ = ALEJANDRO CASTAÑOS: Angulos; JANE O’LEARY: Reflections II; STEPHEN GARDNER: Klezmeria; JUDITH RING: … within an egg of space…; SI-HYUN YI: The Magic Fiddle in the Desert – Concorde Contemporary Music Ensemble/Harry Sparnaay, bass clarinet – Navona Records NV 5835 (Distr. by Naxos), 62:25 ****:
This terrific collection of lesser-known contemporary music also provides an opportunity to get to the new work of the Concorde Contemporary Music Ensemble from Dublin, Ireland. I was not familiar with this excellent group and, in fact, I was not too aware of what sorts of modern classical music was being written or played in the Emerald Isle. But it is, apparently, really good! Concorde ‘s very talented regular membership is joined on this disc by the virtuoso bass clarinetist, Harry Sparnaay and all with amazing results. The Concorde ensemble is a regular member of the European Conference of Promoters of New Music.
The first work in this collection is Angulos by the talented Mexican composer Alejandro Castaños. This is a very attention-getting work! There is much drama in this sextet, composed for  Concorde in 2008. The work has great forward momentum and captures our attention right from the opening with some wonderful interplay between the clarinet and percussion. The music has great drive to it and Castaños background in film scoring is evident with a compelling sense of the mysterious throughout. The wind writing is truly wonderful, here!
Jane O’Leary is another name to get to know. Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Jane O’Leary has been resident in Ireland since 1972 and holds a PhD in composition from Princeton University, where she studied with Milton Babbitt among others. As artistic director and pianist of the Concorde contemporary music ensemble Jane O’Leary has performed and promoted new music in a dozen countries. She currently teaches composition at the DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama in Dublin and lives in Galway where she is artistic director of Music for Galway. Her Reflections II, heard here, is a fascinating four-movement work. The movements of this piece seem to be connected by a common use of timbre and a sense of ‘reflection’, of some sort. There is a sense of melancholy to the work. This work involves some fascinating piano passages including some interior sound effects and each ensemble member is allowed solo moments that seem to reflect on the preceding material. Each person in this group is a very solid performer including Sparnaay, who is given some high, difficult material (as is Paul Roe, also on clarinet).
Stephen Gardner studied at the University of Ulster and the University of Wales and is also a name on the growing Irish new music scene. He has been the recipient of a Vaughan Williams Scholarship and a Draper’s Fellowship and has received commissions from Concorde, the Sculptors’ Society of Ireland, Gerard McChrystal and many others. His Klezmeria, heard here, is a totally engrossing showcase duo for clarinet and violin. (well played by Paul Roe and Elaine Clark) The title suggests some overt Hebraica and, while the work certainly contains moments of klezmer-like gestures and tone, it develops gradually and more thoroughly than that. In many ways, this very fun work is nearly a parody of the stereotypical, very familiar, klezmer sound with high notes, pitching bending, rhythmic patterns that grow in an improvisatory manner. Klezmeria is also much more challenging to the two performers than any improvised klezmer ‘jam session’ would ever be. This is a showcase work and a welcome addition to the small list of works for an unaccompanied clarinet and violin duo. This is very good stuff!
Judith Ring, a native of Dublin, has received commissions from ensembles including Concorde, Crash Ensemble, Trio Scordatura and Percusemble as well as composing a series of solo and tape works with performers such as singer Natasha Lohan, clarinetist Paul Roe, percussionist Damien Harron and an acoustic piece for pianist Rolf Hind. Additionally, she has written music for two short films by Barry Dowling and Diarmuid Goggins. In 2002 she co-composed music with Jürgen Simpson for video artist Clare Langan’s work ‘Glass Hour’. The piece featured in this collection, …within an egg of space…, is written for flute, clarinet, piano, accordion, violin and cello. There is also a part for recorded sounds, pre-recorded by Ring in collaboration with Concorde. This is an ethereal, mysteriously beautiful work which features written material evocative of bird calls or other small animal sounds, against some delicate piano plucking, touching and stroking of the strings from the inside. This is a very picturesque work, clearly depictive of nature in its raw sounds as well as its moods. I found this a very interesting work!
Si-Hyun Yi is a Korean composer who has worked with Harry Sparnaay and Concorde on projects before.  Her The Magic Fiddle in the Desert, from 2008, is a very nice work that evokes a sense of eastern music and even sounds a bit impressionistic in places. This is really a showpiece for bass clarinet and ensemble. Small bits of highly ornamented melody are bounced around the ensemble in a most engaging way. The individual parts highlight each instrument very well and the net effect is very exotic, playful and theatrical. This is another fine work that causes me to want to find out more about this composer.
The Concorde ensemble is a wonderful and dedicated group of musicians and, certainly, Harry Sparnaay is a virtuoso performer dedicated to developing new repertoire for his instrument. However, another solid reason to acquire this disc is simply to get to know the many good musical things coming out of Ireland. Most of the composers on this disc are affiliated with the Contemporary Music Centre of Ireland. Their website has a wealth of interesting information about the composers, their background information, their works and even some really nice sound clips and scores to download. Thanks to Navona for bringing attractive new music to our attention; in this case, from a region that provides unexpected surprise
—Daniel Coombs