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               KIRKOSKAMMER: THE SONG AT                                     POWERSCOURT THEATRE

Golden Plec Review: MICHAEL LEE


Click here for link to review

Sarah Shine and Máire Carroll at Bewley’s Café Theatre @ Powerscourt, Dublin, on 9 August 2017

Singers have a way of attracting a crowd, and tonight is no exception. In contrast to the select gatherings of previous Kirkoskammer concerts, tonight the theatre at Powerscourt is full and convivial, with every seat taken. The cabaret-layout of tables-and-chairs gives it more the feeling of a club than a concert venue, an effect only deepened as performers Máire Carroll (piano) and Sarah Shine (soprano) step out and take their places.

The programme’s theme is ‘matters of the heart’, making the two opening Schubert songs an easy, even conventional, choice. Hearing them in this space, though, frees them of any stiff concert-hall associations, instead evoking the intimate gatherings for which they were originally written. The light is low. Shine, about to take up a position in the Academy of the Paris Opera, may have been a student until relatively recently, but she approaches performing with a relish and focus that belies her years. Her eagerness to communicate is matched by a delightful voice that is already capable of delivering much, her rich lyric soprano covering a big range from a brilliant top down to warm lower registers.


After Schubert comes two Hugo Wolf songs, light and expressive, and then György Kurtág’s Farewell, ushering in a concentration and reticence with a finely-controlled performance from the two performers, Carroll’s playing elegant and hypnotic. Switching back to the breadth of Alban Berg’s late romanticism, Shine brings a lovely sound to these two songs, moving from gentleness to rich, exultant joy. The shared sense of focus and technical knowhow serves both performers well in the short Gerald Barry song (receiving its Irish premiere tonight), with Shine nimbly handling its extremities. An ode to mark the passing of Karlheinz Stockhausen, it’s appropriately matched with a similarly concentrated account of Stockhausen’s Klavierstücke III by Carroll.

After these, the delicious pungency of the Poulenc’s Hôtel is all the stronger, and a sheer pleasure. The cabaret-style of his two Aragon songs (C and Fêtes galantes) are an easy match to our surroundings, though the latter song’s insistent patter—always a difficult balance, given the brilliant piano part—is possibly a little under-sung here, but still gets a laugh. Henri Dutilleux’sSan Francisco Night, calm and understated, is followed by a piano étude, Automne, by Cécile Chaminade, its piquant lyricism beautifully played by Carroll, championing this composer. Finally giving her partner a break from the keyboard, Shine nails a brilliant performance of Cathy Berberian’s famous comic-strip-inspired Stripsody, clearly relishing its opportunities for crazy mimicry.

The ‘heart’ that this concert is based around comes at the very end, with the world premiere ofhEArt by Tiange Zhou, first-prize winner of the Kirkoskammer Composition Competition. Divided into three parts, it is performed at both ends of the room, as the performers move between the piano, plus chimes and megaphone, at one end (parts one and three), and a set-up involving toy pianos and lengths of PVC piping at the other (part two). Brilliantly inventive and engagingly eclectic, its playful energy is tackled fearlessly by the two performers. From looking to the past, we end up teetering giddily at the brink of something new, which is as good a place to stop as any. A great night, and one to remember.

Franz Schubert:  Ständchen; Der Doppelgänger (both from Schwanengesang/Swansong)
Hugo Wolf: Wir haben beide lange Zeit geschwiegen; Nein, junger Herr
György Kurtág: Farewell (from Requiem for the Beloved)
Alban Berg: Nacht; Liebesode (both from Sieben frühe Lieder/Seven early songs)
Gerald Barry: Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007)
Karlheinz Stockhausen: Klavierstücke III
Francis Poulenc: Hôtel; Deux poèmes de Louis Aragon
Henri Dutilleux: San Francisco Night
Cécile Chaminade: Concert Etude No. 2, ‘Automne’
Cathy Berberian: Stripsody
Tiange Zhou: hEArT



Concert Review: ICC10: Máire Carroll, piano

Friday, January 23, 2015 - 7:45pm

Composer MARTIN O'LEARY reviews the performance by rising piano star Máire Carroll at ICC10.

This concert presented a very wide range of stylistic and compositional approaches which demanded much of the performer, the youngest of the festival – and the youngest ever engaged by the ICC. On this evidence she is a sparkling advocate for the many strands of new (and sometimes what sounds like older!) music being written by the younger generation of Irish composers. She not only presented and performed the music with élan – she also – rather more significantly for a new music concert – interpreted the music, and indeed championed it. The seven composers represented in the programme owe her a considerable debt of gratitude, as did the receptive audience. The music chosen for the programme ranged from exploring the inside and outside of the piano, to emotional highs and lows, all of which seemed pianistic. This is in itself a tribute to the performer. It is to be hoped that she will be heard again – and soon – in many more contemporary Irish composers and their music.

Daniel Barkley’s Microsonata: something old treated the styles of the past to which the title makes reference with some affection, introducing subtle inflections which personalised the musical substance in a gentle manner, mirroring his desire (as stated in the programme note) to “look backwards and find new nuances and nooks”. The miniature scale also suited the presentation of material without resource to development or intensification. The balance between a backward glance within a contemporary framework and a language that is lodged in the past with occasional hints of a more contemporary engagement, is problematic and not completely successful in this piece, but the result is engaging. Ben McHugh’s Ag, by contrast, sustained a more modern angularity throughout, spiced as this was with some quasi-tonal splashes and octaves which kept the listener – and perhaps the composer as well – on edge. Peter Moran’s Transcriptions 2 and 4 achieved a jazzy fluency using arabesques which clearly reflected their origins in improvisation. The first piece had its initial stability eaten away by insistent figures, whereas the second used equally insistent repetition to engender tension: these pieces were, to my mind, the most accomplished on the programme. Peter Leavy’s imaginatively titled The Robots' Guide to Rapture began with purposeful sparseness and delicacy, before a stimulating journey through register and gesture to a quite dark conclusion which seemed to this listener at odds with the eponymous “rapture”. The “relationship between musical process and expression” (to quote the composer) was frequently involving and always pianistic, if demanding.

Daniel McDermott’s The Dream about being a person (The Blues) paralleled to some extent the polystylism found in Barkley’s opus, although to my ears there was excessive repetition initially. There were many beautifully imagined details, but the work seemed overlong. Máire Carrroll’s considerable skills were called upon to provide much subtle shading of the repetition characteristic of this work. Maria Minguella’s Only C Mi was exploratory within the minimal material used. It was rather episodic, and lacked dynamism overall, but was striking within the programme for its use of the strings of the instrument more than the keys. Richard Hughes’s Prelude No. 6 was effectively programmed to conclude the concert. Its command of gesture and pianistic writing were its strongest features – a more personal idiom for the composer – the youngest on the programme – will surely follow.

In conclusion, the concert showcased the composers and styles featured, which were often contradictory (and why shouldn’t they be?) – the ICC’s raison d’être to “shape the Irish new music scene around its composers” was manifestly in evidence. Furthermore, as the festival booklet stated “anyone who wishes to compose should be given the opportunity to have their works performed by excellent musicians”. With a performer as committed and accomplished as Máire Carroll, this concert was a successful fulfilment of this aim.

Martin O’Leary is a lecturer in composition at NUI Maynooth and a committee member in the Association of Irish Composers.

Máire Carroll was the first and only pianist to be awarded the €10,000 Royal Dublin Society (RDS) Music Bursary in 2012. See www.mairecarroll.com

Main photo (at top): Máire Carroll performing at ICC10, Project Arts Centre, Dublin, November 2014.