22 April 2012

Loebenstein and other Dubliners

There was some dissonance when Elaine Loebenstein introduced her performance with a delightful, singing Irish accent until she explained that she’s married to a Viennese. There was more dissonance, too, during this solo piano performance, and this dissonance was musical. I guess we all think of harps and jigs and folk music when we think of Irish music, but Elaine presented two much more interesting aspects of Irish music. Firstly, four nocturnes by John Field (born Dublin 1782). Field was the inventor of the nocturne, studied with Clementi, was a child prodigy and toured widely in Europe. Elaine played four nocturnes: Bb major, E minor, C minor and D minor. They was night pieces, lightly voiced with repeating left hand patterns and right hand melodies that moved through comfortable harmonies with undemonstrative single note melodies and occasional flourishes. Interestingly, they were all in triple time: 3/4, 6/8, 9/8, 3/4. Elaine played them solidly with occasional hints of more malleable romantic time. The rest of the performance was more modern, more dissonant, and interestingly, with more historical reference to Irish traditional music. Firstly, two variations on Irish airs – Give me your hand, and Homage to Caroline - by Philip Martin (born Dublin 1947). I noticed lots of dissonance in 3/4 and 4/4, full handed chords, contrary motion, moving symmetrical harmonies, even some bluesy passing notes and cartoon-like humour. And was that the Trout Quintet that he quoted? Secondly, the Windhover by Eric Sweeney (born Dublin 1948). The Windhover is a common kestrel that hovers as it searches for prey, and the piece was taken from a few lines of poetry from Gerard Manley Hopkins. This was intensely visual, dramatic and busy. You could hear the winged hovering spelt out in repeated notes, the airy solidity of birds, the swooping attack in rapidly voiced rising then dropping runs, the death of the prey in a stop and the return of it all over. The second half did not seem like easy music to perform. This was dissonant, altered, fast and jagged, and I thought Elaine played it with a very apt boldness and firmness. So, two very different halves with very different and even unexpected Irish musics. At least Elaine’s lilting voice was just what I’d expected.

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