Fallen Leaves from an Irish Album
RTÉ Lyric FM CD109
Una Hunt has long been a champion of forgotten Irish music in the concert hall and on disc. Previous recordings have included forays into overlooked repertoire from both sides of the border, with discs dedicated to the elegantly aged music of Enniskillen-born Joan Trimble on the Marco Polo label, and to the curiously evocative salon music of Limerick’s George Alexander Osborne, for RTÉ Lyric FM.
Now comes a welcome second RTÉ recording of ‘Popular nineteenth-century Irish piano music’, one that requires Hunt to be detective and archaeologist as well as performer. Those who caught her all too brief Music Network tour last October will know what to expect here: a compendium of once popular solo piano pieces, largely unearthed from the National Library of Ireland archives and lovingly dusted down and spruced up by Hunt herself.
An excusable sleight of hand permits the inclusion of three twentieth-century miniatures by Stanford and at least as many from the seventeenth century. Of those, Thomas Augustine Geary’s then innovative use of a folk melody, Aileen Aroon, translates into a beguilingly serene set of variations that owes much to Bach, while Philip Cogan’s nimble Clementi-dedicated Rondo brims over with light-hearted charm. And what a pleasure to hear something by the towering figure of John Field that isn’t a nocturne, his delightfully ornamented Fantasia on Martini’s Andante (in Ernst Pauer’s revision) requiring Hunt to range decoratively across the keyboard.
Other familiar names include William Wallace – whose ‘Venetian Souvenir’, La Gondola, bobs along with politely controlled glee while his Burns setting, Ye Banks and Braes, gently sways like a kilt in a warm summer evening breeze – and, following Hunt’s debut album with RTÉ, George Alexander Osborne, whose Pauline proves to be that most singularly curious of creatures, a nocturne closer in style to Chopin than Field but with a distinct tinge of green ink about it.
It’s to Hunt’s credit that her advocacy of the less familiar names here is every bit as probing, perceptive and positive as for the celebrity names. She tackles the Brahmsian harmonics and sweeping left-hand arpeggios of Michele Esposito’s Op. 59 No 1 Ballade with persuasive relish, delivers Francis Panormo’s Woodlark Rondo with a winning Mozartian brio, and lends eloquence to Arthur O’Leary’s Valse Heureuse, as pleasant an example of late Victorian salon music as you’re likely to find anywhere.
To note that this is a collection of small-scale pieces intended for a domestic audience is not to chastise the music or diminish Hunt’s cleverly proportioned performances, merely to lament the passing of a genre that could produce so much pretty and precise music.
The exemplary recording cleanly foregrounds the piano in the accomodating acoustic of Castlia Hall in Callan, Co Kilkenny, and lends a wholly agreeable immediacy to Hunt’s well-judged performances.
Published on 1 March 2007
Michael Quinn is a freelance music and theatre journalist based in Co. Down.