About the 2" and No. 3

About the 2" and No. 3

A review of Contemporary Music from Ireland Volume Three from the Contemporary Music Centre.

The series of CMC new music releases continues with Contemporary Music from Ireland Volume Three (CMCCD03). This collection differs from the first two in that, in the main, the recordings were not made specifically for the CD but are borrowed from here and there with permission from the copyright holders. (CMCCD 01 had 5 recorded specially in Park House Studios, 2 taken from other releases, 2 taken from RTÉ, with 1 piece recorded in UCD’s O’Reilly Hall, while CMCCD 02 had 5 of 9 recordings specially made in Park House Studios, 3 borrowed from RTÉ, and 1 from a composer’s personal studio.)

The first thing that must be said about this is that as a result the recording quality varies quite a lot: contrast the superb spaciousness in the excerpt from the third movement of Piers Hellawell’s Sound Carvings from the Waters Edge with the closely mic-ed dry sound of Paul Roe’s never-less-than-atmospheric clarinet playing in O Breath by Michael Holohan, which to my ear sounds like it would benefit from a little more ambience (in fact, I added some reverb at home, and the piece had much more impact and presence). A different problem arises with Siobhan Cleary’s superb Deuce, which has all the ambience of the Hugh Lane Gallery’s acoustic (and I do mean ALL the ambience … ), but so little spatial separation between the two violins that the individual lines are often lost. This is a result of the use of the live recording from the Hugh Lane Gallery performance, released previously on AIC 001, the Association of Irish Composers first venture into CD.

While it makes good economic sense to use existing recordings when available, it doesn’t always make good artistic sense to do so, and while all of the recordings are good, the CD as a whole doesn’t have consistency in its production and engineering, something which isn’t noticeable to the same extent on Volumes 1 and 2.

A bigger problem with the CMC compilation is that nobody seems to have sat down and thought about the timespace in which these performances take place, and so there are horrible intrusive moments at the end of almost every piece when the listener is just accommodating the carefully engineered ending that the composers so painstakingly extruded from their souls, only to have that moment of completion, release, whatever, jarringly destroyed by the intrusion of the next piece. CMC take note: the default 2” gap between tracks in your average CD recording package isn’t enough! Most of these pieces need at least a 5” interval between the tracks!

The use of 3 excerpts (Piers Hellawell, John Gibson, and Gráinne Mulvey) means that more composers are accommodated, which is a good thing, but I can’t help thinking that it is actually a disservice: by all means release excerpts, but do it on a dedicated sampler CD consisting entirely of excerpts, and make the New Music from Ireland series into a series of recordings of complete pieces, which is where its value lies. The composers then stand a chance of the piece being broadcast by a radio station.

A final gripe: what on earth is the point of including a piece from Donnacha Dennehy’s student days? This is probably one of the most exciting young composers in the country, who has written a tonne of stuff since 1992, when the offering on the CMC CD was composed. His music has taken a different direction since then so why is he (mis-)represented by a student work, albeit a pretty impressive one?

Gripes apart, and the frequent 2” gaps notwithstanding, I really enjoyed this CD. There are fine offerings from Kevin Volans, Marian Ingoldsby, Rhona Clarke, Gráinne Mulvey, John Wolf Brennan, Donal Hurley, and Micheal McGlynn, in addition to the already mentioned Siobhán Cleary, Piers Hellawell, Michael Holohan, John Gibson, and Donnacha Dennehy.

Published on 1 July 2001

Fergus Johnston is a Dublin-based composer. His CD Ard Fhearta has just been released and is available in Tower Records, the National Concert Hall shop, and the Contemporary Music Centre.

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