Live Reviews: Raymond Deane, Samara

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(World Première; RTÉ commission) RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
National Concert Hall, Dublin, 18 November 2005
Gerhard Markson – conductor)

When RTÉ’s Director of Music, Niall Doyle, introduced Raymond Deane’s newest work, Samara at the National Concert Hall on 18 November he described the composer as being at the height of his powers. This was not hyperbole as Raymond Deane does indeed convey through his recent music a sense of confidence, authority and an aesthetic that is not distorted by external pressures, such as that to succeed in a competitive commercial world, or that which is even more disastrous to so much new music, the attempt to create a niche through self-conscious avant-gardism.

Samara is the result of a commission by RTÉ, a commission which has been rewarded by a beautiful, complex and thoroughly enjoyable twelve minutes or so (there is a deliberate flexibility in the timing of the piece) of very original music. Naturally it contains the almost mathematical structures that are characteristic of Deane’s work and which offer plenty of scope for technical analysis, particularly in the fractal-like way in which patterns played briefly on just a few instruments later emerge on a massive scale. Seeds becoming a great forest. But to concentrate on such dialectical transformations and the search for references to earlier works would fail to convey the sensuality of the piece. In fact the work is finely balanced between the cerebral and the physical, between dissonance and consonance, density and space, atonality and tonality.

A Samara is a winged seed, otherwise known as a key fruit. In his pre-concert talk Raymond Deane explained that having found a title appropriate to the partly completed composition, it then helped shape the form of the complete work. Another dialectic at play and here a very creative one, because the evocation of the erratic, spinning, flight of the seed is a strong and effective feature of the work. There is also something of a Mediterranean quality to the piece, created perhaps by the space and waves that sounded from instruments of the higher register, interspersed throughout the work like a refrain. Arabic drum rhythms also contributed to this sense of light and warmth.

The overall impact of the work was one of vivacity and freshness. The rest of the concert program brought home to me just how stimulating and intense the twelve minutes of Samara had been. For, without in the least part wanting to denigrate the wonderfully committed playing of soloist John Finucane, it was very hard to attend to the subsequent piece, Weber’s Clarinet Concerto No. 1 (1812). It was like having left a conversation full of unexpected insights and comments for a very dry lecture, in which the speaker was entirely predictable and the course of their argument obvious from their opening remarks. Again, this is not to depreciate the efforts of orchestra or the clearly heartfelt enthusiasm of the audience for Weber’s work, but to explain why at the end of Samara I wanted above all, to hear it again, and again.

Published on 1 January 2006

Conor Kostick is a writer and journalist. He is the author of Revolution in Ireland (1996) and, with Lorcan Collins, The Easter Rising (2000).

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