From The Intelligence Park (1986)
Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins
Music of Today - Gerald Barry
Thursday, November 08, 2001 Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
The tenth anniversary series of Music Of Today continued with this brief but varied overview of Irish-born (in 1952) Gerald Barry, a one-time pupil of Mauricio Kagel, whose theatricalisation of the act of composition is evident in Barrys thoughtfully disruptive musical processes.
From The Intelligence Park (1986) is a synthesis of elements from Barrys first opera, controversially staged at the Almeida Festival back in 1990. This study in acerbic melodic patterns played in varying rhythmic unisons across the ensemble certainly evokes the operas exploration of, in the words of librettist Mary Fitzgerald, "... the relationships between sexuality, artistic creativity and power ... in 18th-century Dublin."
________ (1979, "the straight-line piece," as the composer calls it) casts these rhythmic unisons in more punchy timbres. The increasingly desperate maintenance of the musical thread, through alternating bass clarinets, is the highpoint of this elaborate and dryly amusing caper. The presence of Tchaikovskys symphonic flourishes and John Jenkinss lute manuscripts is well-nigh undetectable, but classicalsource.coms esteemed Editor felt the presence of the closing harmonies of Vaughan Williamss Sixth Symphony in the final bars. Over to you on that one, Mr Barry!
Described by the composer as "... made up of melodies with a storm," Octet is a study in rhythmic and timbral velocity, appropriately so as it was written for the hard-hitting Icebreaker ensemble. That the refrain, constant despite the aural assaults around it, fits in with the description of Herveys sleek physique in a passage from The Conquest of Ireland is just one of the fascinations of the piece such as mark out Barrys music as a whole.
Excellent performance from members of the Philharmonia and Martyn Brabbins, though I trust Mikhail Pletnev (playing in the RFH after this early-evening concert) was not in the audience to witness Michael Rounds bravura piano playing called for in Octet.
For a wide-ranging introduction to Barrys provocative world, the disc of chamber pieces including _______ and the contrastingly subdued First Piano Quartet is an ideal starting-point (NMC D022).
Next Music Of Today 28 February, Galina Ustvolskaya, 6 oclock, Royal Festival Hall. Free, no ticket required.
For an overview of the 10th Anniversary Series, click here.