Music of Today – Gerald Barry

Gerald Barry
From The Intelligence Park (1986)
’_________’ (1979)
Octet (1995)

Members of the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 8 November, 2001
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

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 Barry’s thoughtfully disruptive musical processes.

From The Intelligence Park (1986) is a synthesis of elements from Barry’s 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 opera’s 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 Tchaikovsky’s symphonic flourishes and John Jenkins’s lute manuscripts is well-nigh undetectable, but’s esteemed Editor felt the presence of the closing harmonies of Vaughan Williams’s 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 Hervey’s sleek physique in a passage from ’The Conquest of Ireland’ is just one of the fascinations of the piece – such as mark out Barry’s 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 Round’s ’bravura’ piano playing called for in Octet.

For a wide-ranging introduction to Barry’s provocative world, the disc of chamber pieces including ’_______’ and the contrastingly subdued First Piano Quartet is an ideal starting-point (NMC D022).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content