Live Reviews: Composers' Choice: Linda Buckley

Fidelio Trio: Darragh Morgan (violin), Robin Michael (cello) & Mary Dullea (piano); Natasha Lohan (voice) John Field Room, NCH 25 March 2008.

Although the works curated by Linda Buckley had unique voices, they were united by a sense of perpetual motion. Kinetic energies evidently hold a particular allure for Buckley, both as composer and listener: a relentless, mechanistic drive characterised Ligeti’s Fanfares, Nancarrow’s Toccata and Dennehy’s Bulb; unseen forces seemed to relay through an electric circuit and guide the fitful interplay of violin and piano in Buckley’s Volt, and her jöklar, for solo piano, is inspired by the slow movement of glaciers. Kaija Saariaho’s Spins and Spells for solo cello and the Trio No. 1 by Salvatore Sciarrino rounded out an adventurous programme.

Along with the opportunity to hear four originals from Buckley, it was rewarding to hear Dennehy’s Bulb, which, when I heard it broadcast last year on BBC Radio 3, suffered by having the microtonal nuances of the violin and cello parts obscured by a mix heavily weighted in favour of the piano.

Buckley’s work, like Dennehy’s, often sidestepped expectations, allowing unforeseen passages to surface suddenly from within a deliberately crafted texture: the energetic interchange between piano and violin that began Volt gave way to a repeating cycle of chords that wouldn’t have been out of place on an electronica track, and the calm homophony that opens jöklar unexpectedly fragmented into angular pointillism. jöklar takes its name from the Icelandic term for glacier – Buckley regularly finds inspiration in geographical phenomena; other works bear titles such as Stratus and latitude longitude.

Q was a setting of the poem ‘Quietness’ by the thirteenth-century Persian poet Rumi. (The poet has experienced a resurgence in recent times with composers; the American Benjamin Johnston set the same poem in a work for voice and string quartet.) Buckley set the text for voice and electronics, with vocalist Natasha Lohan weaving a circumspect path of sliding tones, plosives and breathy inflections through sustained resonating textures that became increasingly tumultuous as the work progressed toward a forceful conclusion.

In contrast to the textured blanket of electronics laid beneath Lohan’s vocals, the electronics in Buckley’s piano trio, galura, were much less demonstrative. The edges of the opening instrumental utterances were daubed with fragile electronic echoes, mirroring the harmonics articulated by the cello and violin. As the piano set off on a series of disjointed phrases, the cello embarked on an unusually emotive passage. This was echoed canonically by the piano before the three instrumental forces combined to form a luminously swollen vista that brought the piece, and the concert, to a close.

The near capacity attendance in the John Field Room showed an appetite among the concert-going public for progressive programming. It is hoped that similarly talented young Irish composers are afforded every opportunity to display their wares in front of such a receptive audience.

Published on 1 May 2008

Rob Casey is a Dublin-based musician and composer of electronic and acoustic music.

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