Saturday 4 October 2014

Two enormously rewarding symphonies by Irish composer, John Kinsella receive outstanding performances on a new release from Toccata Classics

John Kinsella (b.1932) was born in Dublin and, from 1968 until his retirement in 1988, worked for RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann), holding the position as Head of Music for the last five years. After his retirement from RTÉ he was able to devote his time fully to composition.

Kinsella’s compositions to date include vocal and choral works, ten symphonies, two violin concertos, a cello concerto, four string quartets and many solo and chamber works. He has received commissions from such bodies as The Irish Chamber Orchestra, RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, Dublin International Piano Competition and The Arts Council of Wales.

John Kinsella is a member of Aosdana and his works have been recorded by Chandos and Naxos as well as the RTÉ lyric fm and Irish Chamber Orchestra labels.

His Symphony No.10 which was premiered by The Irish Chamber Orchestra  with conductor Gabor Takacs-Nagy at the University of Limerick, Ireland on 9 February 2012. It is the same forces that have now recorded this symphony for Toccata Classics coupled with Kinsella’s Symphony No.5 with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Colman Pearce  with Gerard O’Connor (baritone) and Bill Golding (speaker).
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I never cease to be surprised by the fine discoveries that are brought to us by Toccata Classics and this new disc is no exception.

Kinsella’s Symphony No.5, The 1916 Poets (1992) sets poems by three Irish poets, Joseph Mary Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh and Patrick (Pádraig) Pearse, all of whom were involved in Irish revolutionary politics. Plunkett was a poet, journalist, MacDonagh was a poet, playwright and educationalist and Pearse an Irish teacher, barrister, poet, writer, nationalist and political activist. All were leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. All were executed for their part in the Easter Uprising.

A horn opens the Larghetto – Allegro with a little motif echoed by a second horn and leading to an orchestral climax before the voice of speaker, Bill Golding enters with Plunkett’s The Stars Sang in God’s Garden. Golding reflects the emotion and drama of the verses matched equally by the orchestra. A rapid violin motif around the words Lest my poor songs be fugitive before the music quietens as the orchestra moves forward, building slowly in drama as baritone, Gerard O’Connor enters with Now, my son, is life for you, the opening of MacDonagh’s  Wishes for My Son. He has a firm, rich baritone voice and brings much intense feeling to the texts.

With intense drama the orchestra continues, Colman Pearce drawing much sensitive playing from the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, providing a feeling of intense, barely controlled passion and fervour around the words But I found no enemy. Golding re-enters at the words But for you, so small and young, Born on St. Cecilia’s Day, O’Connor concluding this poem before the gentle orchestral coda.

A rapid viola motif opens the Largo as timpani quietly sound and the orchestra rises with rasping woodwind and brass. The baritone enters with MacDonagh’s In an Island. The combination of Gerard O’Connor’s strong, rich baritone voice and the pensive orchestral writing is quite compelling with hushed brass, before a rising viola motif leads the coda.

The Presto has a swirling, flowing orchestral theme before the baritone enters in Plunkett’s See the Crocus. There are some lovely woodwind flourishes in this, the shortest movement.

The final movement marked Largo – Allegro, lasting some 19 minutes, opens with a beautifully affecting melody for orchestra, an intensely yearning theme for strings that momentarily turns darker before resuming its yearning flavour. There is definitely a sense of uncertainty, caution, an underlying tension, as well as some particularly intense discords. When baritone, Gerard O’Connor enters with the words The beauty of the world has made me sad, the opening of Patrick Pearse’s poem The Wayfarer, he is full of intense feeling, his voice ideal for this passionate music.  There is a very fine orchestral passage between the sung texts. If this is the least cohesive movement then it is, in many respects, the most emotionally telling. When Bill Golding enters with Pearce’s O Little Bird, he adds so much with his fine shaping of the words.

The baritone briefly enters with These will pass before the speaker continues with O Lovely Head, another fine poem by Pearce. Golding rises in drama for Pearce’s Why do ye torture me, a terrific moment. Kinsella’s orchestral writing, no mere accompaniment, is superbly done in this section. O’Connor returns to Pearce’s The Wayfarer and the words These will pass, Will pass and change, will die and be no more, the mood not lifting until he arrives at the words Things young and happy and an orchestral section that continues to raise the mood though still with some passion. Gerard O’Connor returns to conclude that poem with And I have gone upon my way, sorrowful, another terrific moment, full of emotion. A horn is heard again, reflected by a second horn before the orchestra rises up dramatically with the horns and the speaker joins for Pearce’s last poem I see His blood upon the rose building, superbly to the final line of text. Bill Golding has such a fine musical sense that one doesn’t feel that the speaker’s part is in any way out of place. The orchestra continue to rise to a pitch before the horns return for the hushed, tense coda.

This enormously rewarding symphony is a very striking, emotionally intense work to which Gerard O’Connor, Bill Golding together with Colman Pearce and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra bring an outstanding performance.

John Kinsella’s Symphony No.10 (2010) is in three movements and is performed here by the Irish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Gábor Takács-Nagy.

A long held clarinet note and a little clarinet motif leads us into the Largo – Allegro energico where other woodwind join before pizzicato strings take over in a rhythmic, syncopated version of the motif, with drums adding to the rhythm as the orchestra moves the music forward. The theme develops around the orchestra with some particularly fine woodwind and brass phrases as the music becomes more dynamic. A chiming orchestral motif intrudes momentarily before the strings lead on with brass adding texture and brilliance before the unexpectedly quiet coda.

Clarinets open the Largo – Andante before brass quietly join the strings as the music is developed. A little staccato motif appears a number of times before the music suddenly rises up, dramatically. The music soon drops to a lovely passage with high strings and a brass theme that leads a very distinctive orchestral passage with quivering strings and percussion. Eventually the music falls to a quiet section featuring a horn which is then is joined by other brass before the quiet coda.

The final Allegro energico has a light and fast moving opening as the music bounds along with occasional brief quieter pauses. The woodwind and brass dominate this music that is full of restrained energy, particularly in the quiet moments. There is some terrific brass and woodwind flourishes before, halfway through, timpani drive the music through more distinctive orchestral textures. This leads to a climax with some terrific orchestral playing as the theme is shared around before the music slows and broadens to the coda.

This is a terrific symphony, full of energy, fine orchestration and a great forward momentum, finely played by Gábor Takács-Nagy and the Irish Chamber Orchestra.

The recordings could not be better. There are excellent notes from Séamas da Barra, complete with musical examples, a commentary on his symphonies by the composer as well as full English texts.

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