Category Archives: reviews and reports

Nathalia Milstein @ St Ann’s Church, Dublin (11 October 2016)

Last year she won the Dublin International Piano Competition, in February she gave a recital at The National Concert Hall, and tonight Nathalia Milstein (“mill-shtyne”) begins a ten-day tour of Ireland with this concert in St Ann’s Church on Dawson Street.

Her wide-ranging programme takes in Bach, Mozart, Bartók, Liszt, Ravel, and the piece commissioned from Gráinne Mulvey for the Dublin International Piano Competition. The insightful programme notes, written by classical journalist and reviewer Pat O’Kelly, supply background and context for the diverse pieces: Bach walking for ten days to hear an inspirational keyboardist, Mozart as a busy 18-year-old musician performing his latest sonatas in Munich, and of course a few hints about the composers’ love lives. It is necessary (and frequently fascinating) to have these human reference points alongside an art form that can so easily become rarified.

Milstein gives a riveting performance of Gráinne Mulvey’s Interference Patterns, drawing on the lyrical style of the Liszt that preceded it, and also the intense energy of The Chase from the Bartók suite. Mulvey’s piece is inspired by the work of 19th century Irish scientist John Tyndall on the behaviour of waves when they meet an obstacle. A most vivid expression of this is achieved towards the end of the piece. It was as if Milstein sent two shockwaves through the piano – a remarkable gesture, the sound almost visibly emanating from the instrument.

(A very effective transition is achieved between the prayerful ending of Liszt’s Sonneto and Interference Patterns. Having consistently stood up to receive applause at the end of each of the pieces in the first half, the pianist remained seated at the end of the Liszt. This meant the audience didn’t applaud, and Milstein could begin the next piece without breaking the atmosphere just created.)

Maurice Ravel’s suite, Le tombeau de Couperin, was written one hundred years ago and remains one of the most delightful pieces of solo piano writing in the canon. Beginning with her head up, her demeanour calm as the delicate machinery of the opening Prélude flutters into life, Milstein’s performance of the six movements is a joy to behold. Ravel’s extraordinary writing for the piano is brought to life in her hands and the luminous shimmer in the last bars of the Prélude is a beautiful moment. Ravel dedicates each of the movements to friends and colleagues killed in World War I. Behind the piano, the ornate rolls of honour that flank the altar in St Ann’s serve as a reminder of its congregation’s own grief at the loss of their sons during that war. The Forlane carries itself with swagger and Milstein gives an assured reading of this courtly dance, gracefully partnering with Ravel’s melancholy harmonies and finely-wrought invention. There is something personal and intimate in Ravel’s writing. It’s there, too, in Bartók’s The Night’s Music, sometimes stellar and sometimes scrabbling, and in the Bach Toccata that opened the concert. Witnessing the artistry and technique of Nathalia Milstein’s playing tonight in the hushed church is a sublime experience.

Programme:

  • Johann Sebastian Bach – Toccata in C minor BWV 911
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Piano Sonata No 3 in B flat K 281
  • Béla Bartók – Out of Doors Sz 81
  • Franz Liszt – Sonneto del Petrarca No 104 S 161
  • Gráinne Mulvey – Interference Patterns
  • Maurice Ravel – Le tombeau de Couperin
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Nathalia Milstein at St Ann’s church, Dublin / photograph by Frances Marshall

Click the photo for more of Frances Marshall’s photos from the night.

This review was done for GoldenPlec.com

Dublin Brass Week concert (29 June @ TCD chapel)

I was invited along to this concert by my violin-playing friend, Feilimidh (pronounced FELL-uh-mee). I’ve just come on board with GoldenPlec.com as a classical reviewer, so I was happy to have a reason to write something before I get my first assignment from them!

Dublin Brass Week is now in its fourth year and, despite not receiving any public funding, is going from strength to strength. The calibre of guest players in evidence at this concert, the palpable enthusiasm from the attendees, and the remarkable energy and capability of its organisers will hopefully mean that funding can be secured for next year and beyond.

The concert was in the beautiful chapel in Trinity College. It’s an odd venue in some ways, with its rows of stepped pews facing each other across the central aisle. As the night went on, the various performers processed down the aisle, providing lovely moments of interaction for the audience. I sat up near the front, on Feilimidh’s advice, since the acoustic was rather reverberant for some of the crisper, rhythmic music in the programme. Best seat in the house!

The concert opened with one piece that was perfectly suited to the chapel’s acoustic – a sonata by Gabrieli, performed by eight players from the choir balcony. Four players stood on each side, forming two distinct groups that showed off the composer’s echoing and overlapping musical ideas.

Of all the amazing musicians performing at the concert, trumpeter Reinhold Friedrich stood out for me, utterly connected with the music and his fellow musicians. In the bars when he wasn’t playing he couldn’t help but ‘conduct’ with his free hand. Music of this period – the Baroque era – is usually not conducted in the modern sense, but is rather led by a communal language of gestures. This makes it wonderful to watch. I do think Baroque music represents a pinnacle in music as a beautiful artform. Music of later periods seems to move away from the togetherness of the Baroque (necessitating a conductor) and also into a celebration of a hero pitted against an orchestra. A generalisation, to be sure, but there is truth to it. Reinhold Friedrich’s ‘conducting’ was a reminder of just how enjoyable this music is.

Listen to him playing the Telemann concerto in D major that he played that night – tracks 6-9 on this 1996 album (link to Spotify).

If the trumpet sounds high it’s because it’s a clarino trumpet – a teeny tiny trumpet that Herr Friedrich made sing more beautifully than I’ve ever heard before. My friend Pat Morris, who was sitting beside me, turned to me after the first movement and whispered “I could listen to him all day!”

The backbone of Baroque chamber music is the continuo – usually a harpsichord and a cello. Both instruments play the bass line and the harpsichordist improvises an accompaniment, following the ‘figured bass’ notation on their part. David Adams is a master of the keyboard and it was a real pleasure to hear the sparkling flourishes of his playing underpinning the excellent ensemble. Yseult Cooper Stockdale, the cellist, almost stole the show with her sublime playing in the middle movement of the Vivaldi double horn concerto. The two soloists in this piece, the world-class French horn player Richard Watkins and (making her professional solo debut) Hannah Miller, stood on either side of the group, a choice that again gave an interesting manifestation to the musical interplay.

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Reinhold Friedrich and his fellow musicians after a triumphant rendition of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F

Review | Flecks – Girl

What a thoughtful review! It’s so exciting to see this EP making its way into the world. Can’t wait to play the songs live again soon, can’t wait to write more (we’re aiming for another few singles over the summer).

Have a listen. We’d really appreciate a ‘follow’ on Spotify — click the three dots beside any of the song titles and click ‘Go to Artist’, then click the ‘follow’ button.

We’re also on iTunes (your purchase would help pay for the mastering and uploading).

You can find us — @weareflecks — on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SoundCloud, YouTube…

Drop us a comment and say hi 🙂

The Last Mixed Tape

FlecksThe Last Mixed Tape reviews Girl, the debut extended play from Dublin based synth-pop act Flecks.

Atmosphere is a word I often use in reviews, and the thing about atmosphere is that it’s incredibly difficult to build one and even more difficult for it to be believable. Such is the case with a the dramatic synth atmosphere of Flecks’ Girl.

“Nothing’s every gonna feel like it was when you were that stupid girl at the back of youth hall crying” sings vocalist Freya Monks during the E.P’s opener and title track. I’d like to take a moment to point out exactly how important this lyric is the rest of the record’s success. In the space of one line, we get a sense of where we are, where we were and where we don’t want to be. This made all the more relatable by the inclusion of “girl at…

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David Rooney, whose album I’ve been recording piano and vocals for, and his striking portraits of 1916

Arminta Wallace interviewed David the other week and her article appeared in this weekend’s edition of The Irish Times — this weekend was the actual anniversary of the 1916 rising. 

Here, from David’s forthcoming album, and with me on piano, is ‘The Rising’:

1916 as you’ve never seen it before

Arminta Wallace, The Irish Times — Saturday, 23 April, 2016

By his own account David Rooney was an unlikely person to be asked to illustrate a book about the men and women of 1916. “For me growing up, everything associated with 1916 was coloured by the Troubles,” he says.

“My dad grew up near Enniskillen, and came down here to join the guards, getting away from the poisoned land, as he saw it, of sectarianism in the North. And I wouldn’t be alone in this: many people of my generation would have a real repugnance about the continuation of violence.”

But when Rooney got into the nitty-gritty of his research for the project he was fascinated by what he discovered.

“I’ve been reading the 1916 stories for more than a year, and there are so many instances where everything changed in people’s lives – and the lives of everyone around them. They fragmented, altered, spun off in all sorts of directions. Maybe the anvil of an event like this produces really extraordinary arcs of story – or maybe the stories always happen, and we just don’t register it. But when war happens, when conflict happens, the natural trajectory of things is altered. Like the refugee situation now. And we’re still living in the broken mirror of 1916.”

Rooney’s 42 thoughtful black-and-white drawings give the book 1916 Portraits and Lives, a collection of biographical essays published by the Royal Irish Academy and based on the academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography, a visual – and, indeed, emotional – heft that helps it stand out from this year’s 1916 publications.

Originally the plan was to use photographs of the characters concerned, but in some cases the available imagery was of poor quality or simply nonexistent. So the academy’s graphic designer, Fidelma Slattery, had the idea of using original artwork. Its managing editor, Ruth Hegarty, ran with the idea, and Jackie Moore of the Office of Public Works – “the third part of that triumvirate of powerful women”, as Rooney puts it – came on board to support the project by buying the originals for the State.

How did Rooney get so up close and personal with his subjects?

“A friend of mine told me to read James Stephens’s The Insurrection in Dublin. That had a huge impact on the colour of it, because Stephens’s account is really what a journalist would do now. “It’s moment by moment. ‘Here I am on the corner of Abbey Street . . .’ It’s amazing – and an amazingly neglected document.”

The 1916 Portraits and Lives project has taken off to such an extent that it now has a life of its own. The book won a design award and was shortlisted for the 2015 Bord Gáis Energy Book of the Year. The ebook was made available for free download, and such was the uptake – more than 65,000 copies downloaded worldwide – that the offer has been extended until the end of April.

Limited-edition prints of the portraits are available to buy from the Royal Irish Academy’s website, and the originals will be on display at an exhibition in Kilmainham Gaol from May 12th.

As for Rooney himself, after 30 years as a visual artist, the illustrator with the highly distinctive visual “voice” is now developing another voice – as a singer-songwriter.

“There have always been guitars around, and I liked the idea of writing songs but didn’t know where to go to find them.”

A chance meeting with Glen Hansard changed all that. “I went over to his house, and I saw him working on the songs that became his Grammy-nominated album [Didn’t He Ramble]. To see them as pencil sketches – well, I recognised something in that. I thought, I know where to find my songs. They’re in the same well as the drawings, but much further down – and much harder to get at.”

Hansard has become a close friend and a constant source of musical inspiration. And with Declan O’Rourke producing and a band that includes the jazz drummer Conor Guilfoyle and the pianist Jay Wilson, who plays with James Vincent McMorrow, Rooney has now recorded 10 songs for an album due to be released this autumn. “It has been an absolutely incredible journey. With the drawings the best ones come if I get out of the way and let it flow. With music I have to be totally present at all stages of it.”

As for recording and performing, that’s a collaborative process that is a shock to a perfectionist who is used to working at home alone. “I’m in total control of the images. With the music I have to let go. Take that de Valera image. If that was music, okay, I get to do de Valera, but I’ve to get you to do the swan, because you’re the person who can do swans. While we’re rehearsing, the swan is exactly like it’s going to be here. And then comes the day of recording, and you’re thinking more of a goose. ‘Why does it have to be a swan,’ you say. ‘Can’t it be a cormorant or . . . a shag, maybe’?” He laughs. “Yeah. And you have just to say, ‘Okay. Let’s try that’.”

I started off today resenting Jimmy Fallon and went on a glorious journey

I thought I knew what I was going to do this morning. There are definitely things that I *should* have done, but I got terribly, wonderfully sidetracked.

I saw a tweet to a Joe.ie article about Michael Stipe performing ‘The Man Who Sold The World’ on The Tonight Show. I was intrigued – I perform that song when I play in The Candlelight Bar. If you haven’t already watched it, take a look:

I wondered who the piano player was. I wondered even more when I realised that he was accompanying Michael Stipe as an equal, with an obviously classical sensibility, not as some background chord player supporting a star. There was a notated arrangement on the music stand of the piano, it was a nice piano, it was a beautifully played, sensitive accompaniment.

A quick Twitter search gave me the answer, it was a composer called Paul Cantelon. His name wasn’t mentioned at all on the show, which really irked me. The various ‘articles’ that attach themselves to pieces of content like this did their usual job of contributing nothing. Jimmy Fallon is obviously a music fan, too, but it was an unusual moment for his show. The pop world has taught us not to acknowledge the musicians that accompany singers (either solo artists or band members). I felt bad for Cantelon when Fallon came over at the end and just impolitely ignored him.

Paul Cantelon is a fascinating character, as I just discovered by listening to a wonderful podcast conversation between him and Joseph Arthur. (I hope you can listen, as it’s on SoundCloud, which is currently changing its access model…) It’s a remarkable series of stories over two and a half hours(!), and what emerges is a picture of a fascinating life and the gracious, humble musician who has lived it. He grew up as a child of an evangelical preacher, was publicly shamed by Pierre Boulez at the age of 11, spilled hot chocolate over sheet music notated by Ravel, swung a piano into a 12th century Parisian church window, attended the 1st Church of the Surf, had an awkward encounter with Nina Simone, was in a coma for three weeks… Funny, charming, poignant, and profound. I thoroughly, thoroughly recommend you take a listen.

In a weird way, Jimmy Fallon’s rudeness did me a great service. If Paul’s name had just been noted in the blurb at the bottom of the video, I’d not have found out about him. Such is the world we live in. “Oh right, that’s that bit of information, I’ll hurry on.” This might not be that moment for you – it’s supremely unlikely that you will have anything like the connection and experience I’ve had this morning with this person I never knew before. That’s the joy of life, the joy of autobiography, of story-telling, of honesty, of seeking meaning and beauty and creativity.

Here’s a Spotify link to one of his compositions for the film ‘Effie Gray’.

San Fermin at Whelan’s, Dublin (28 April 2015)

 

My friend Andrew sent me a link to ‘Sonsick’ last year while I was in the U.S. on tour. I remember listening to it backstage at the venue we played in Mill Valley, CA — playing it loud through the JBL desktop speaker as we celebrated after the gig. I’ve listened to it many, many times since then — it’s one of my top five songs of last year. (My research led me to discover Lucius, whose lead singers Holly and Jess sing on San Fermin’s first album.) I missed them the last time they were in Dublin, so I was determined to catch them this time.

After a short instrumental track that played as the band walked onstage, they started with the first three songs on their newly released second album, ‘Jackrabbit’:

THE WOODS
Allen Tate’s voice softly sets the scene in this disquieting tale of a boy and a girl and the dark and the deep. The instrumentation gradually grows in menace and Tate sings the last verse an octave higher, the change in tessitura bringing out a more impassioned timbre in his voice. The song culminates in a snarl from the most unusual instrument in the ensemble, the baritone sax.

LADIES MARY
This short song introduces Charlene Kaye’s voice, weaving one of the many great melodies that we’ll hear tonight. The band’s composer, Ellis Ludwig-Leone, stationed at the side of the stage, plays the bass line on a Moog synthesizer.

EMILY
The crowd relaxes into this song’s backbeat and we travel further ‘down the rabbit hole’ to the sound of John Brandon’s trumpet. This is a cracker and will grace many a festival stage this summer, I hope.

From here, we hark back to a song from the first album:

CRUELER KIND

I’m listening to the album version as I write this. It’s cool to hear the various musical themes from the album appearing in the long instrumental section. Such a rich and rewarding work. Charlene Kaye and violinist/vocalist Rebekah Durham harmonise beautifully, Durham also employing a really great tremolo effect that caught my attention. Ludwig-Leone acknowledges Kaye’s great performance (the songs from the first album are seriously difficult to sing!) and comments that it’s a year since her first show with the group.

ASTRONAUT

Back onto the Jackrabbit playlist now with these next two songs. Astronaut is one that I was curious to hear live, as it features a virtuoso soprano line at the end that emerges and floats away from the other instruments. Wisely, they’ve elected to put that line on violin for the live shows — it just isn’t a practical thing to try and do live in a sweaty club. You should definitely take a listen to it on the album, though. Beautiful singing. The acoustic guitar part on this song is also really lovely.

PHILOSOPHER

This must be great fun to sing — a strong lyric that Kaye *owns*.

METHUSELAH

Two from the first album now, Methuselah giving the enthusiastic Dublin crowd a chance to sing along with its infectious, breezy chorus. Again, Tate’s emphatic higher range is used to great effect in the last round.

THE COUNT

Chamber math rock — again, this must be class to play, because it’s certainly class to watch!

WOMAN IN RED

…when you go to sleep don’t close your eyes…

Another brilliant vocal from Tate in this rocking tune from Jackrabbit.

PARASITES

Kaye leads off in this, a warped bluegrass duet with a choral cadence in the middle that leads onto some more awesome sounds from the baritone sax and the kind of dense ensemble work that makes San Fermin such a brilliant band to experience.

SONSICK

My favourite! (And, at close to 4 million streams on Spotify, beloved by many others it seems.)

…when you think you’re thinking clear / you’re really tied up and committed / but it’s an awful lot of talk…

RECKONING

I noticed the lovely celeste sound on this song (that, on listening back, I can hear a lot on the first album, too). Ludwig-Leone uses a Nord Electro — I wonder if it’s the sampled instrument from that?

TWO SCENES

Charlene rocks out on Telecaster for this…

BILLY BIBBIT

These three complete the Jackrabbit run through, but for the title track which is kept until last.

JACKRABBIT

I asked Ellis to sign the vinyl record I bought afterwards and, when I complimented him on the artwork, he said an artist friend had done both album covers. He mentioned wanting to relate the Jackrabbit image to the first album’s menacing bull, but to hint at something unnerving, too. Listening to the track now, it strikes me that this effect is achieved in the music, too. The song is at once a joyous expression and a reflection on life’s brevity and humanity’s cyclical existence. This idea could be extrapolated to a sorry conclusion, but Ludwig-Leone’s music and his band’s wonderful performing leaves us with a fiercely life-affirming message: 

…better run for the hills…

——–

DAEDALUS (WHAT WE HAVE)

This tune, which permeates the first album, is coupled with a lyric that muses poignantly on mortality and remembrance (“…when it’s going quickly and it’s like we’re half asleep…”). It begins whimsically and gradually squeezes shut its eyes and clenches its fists and crys out to seek some catharsis. Beautiful work.

BUDDY HOLLY

This pretty faithful cover of the Weezer song acts as an antidote to the intensity of the last. Brilliant gig 🙂