CD Reviews: Raymond Deane

Ripieno, Violin Concerto, Samara
RTÉ, RTÉ CD274

This welcome recording of three RTÉ-commissioned works by Raymond Deane marks the informal beginning of an ambitious collaboration between the broadcaster and the Arts Council that will see the release of 10 discs devoted to contemporary Irish music between now and 2013.

Predictably, Deane sets the bar intimidatingly high for those who will follow, with the three featured works, says the composer, ‘between them, encapsulating most of what I have learned about composition in my lifetime’.

The four-movement Ripieno, written over a three-year period and first heard in 2000, is quintessential Deane. A work of quicksilver intelligence that plays with both conceptual and actual notions of structure, it is a muscular yet lithe and fluid orchestral work that apes concerto form while wilfully alluding to concertante idioms and all the time mischievously courting the question of whether it is, in fact, a symphony in all but name.

Deane himself, no doubt, would reject outright the symphonic tag, but the sheer exuberance and brilliance of the writing could, surely, only be realised with the full orchestral armoury here assembled. There’s a deliberateness about the occasionally elaborate trajectory within and between movements (the furious ‘gamelan from hell’ Scherzo not least) that compels the attention, especially in a performance as forcefully assured as this from the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra under Gerhard Markson.

Completed in 2003, the Violin Concerto parodies nineteenth-century precedent in the pursuit of a statement that more keenly allies itself to Deane’s own political credo. So, this magnificent, one is almost tempted to say monumental, work culminates in the liberation from rather than subjugation by the orchestra of the solo instrument, the stirring culmination to an incident- and ideas-filled musical odyssey.

Such an outcome is hinted at in the violin’s first movement quotation of ‘Der Leiermann’ from Schubert’s Winterreise, which Deane subsequently spins off into two hallucinatory variations before its eventual dilution in the slow second movement where it is tellingly superseded by an all too brief moment of summer warmth.

The orchestral forces are smaller than those for Ripieno but deport themselves with no less impact. The inventive third movement and long, elaborate finale make considerable technical demands of dedicatee Christine Pryn and the NSO, both of whom play with due and consummate authority.

Dating from two years later, the twelve-minute-long Samara (the name is a botanical term describing the dry winged seeds of certain trees) is the most compact of the three pieces on this recording and develops organically from its own musical ‘seed’, the interval of a third, with a multi-faceted sensuality that surprises and delights.

Referencing earlier works and employing some striking effects – the serene opening, the stylised allusion to Arabian folk music, the interplay of consonance and dissonance, the ethereal otherliness of the finale – Samara is an altogether bewitching work.

Published on 1 March 2008

Michael Quinn is a freelance music and theatre journalist based in Co. Down.

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