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Dennehy: Elastic Harmonic, Paddy, Etc / Macgregor, Et Al

Release Date: 07/24/2007 
Label:  Nmc   Catalog #: 133   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Donnacha Dennehy
Performer:  Tatania KolevaDarraugh MorganJoanna MacGregor
Conductor:  Gavin Maloney
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble IntégralesCrash EnsembleRTE National Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

DENNEHY Glamour Sleeper. 1 Paddy. 2 Junk Box Fraud. 3 Elastic Harmonic. 4 _pAt. 5 Streetwalker 3 Ens Intégrales; 1 Tatiana Koleva (perc); 2 Crash Read more Ens; 3 Darraugh Morgan (vn); 4 Gavin Maloney, cond; 4 RTÉ Natl SO; 4 Joanna MacGregor (pn, tape) 5 NMC 133 (66:24 Text and Translation)

Donnacha Dennehy (b.1970) is an Irish composer who’s becoming visible on the international circuit. His music has sort of the in-your-face energy that comes out of rock and various alternative popular musics, and it’s a sound that’s become about as in-demand as any style of “classical” music can be right now. Indeed, on a first listening before reading the disc’s notes, I found myself saying that this is a composer ripe for the picking by the Bang on a Can franchise. Well, in fact, once I read up on him, I discovered that one of the works on this program, Streetwalker (2003), is in fact a commission for the BOAC All-Stars. So he’s already ahead of the game.

The genre of music I’ve described has the advantage of energy and accessibility. Its downside can be a superficial embrace of rock idioms, and a corresponding lack of much beyond a bouncy surface. I’m very pleased to say that in most cases, Dennehy’s music avoids that trap. First, he has a wonderfully infectious rhythmic sense. He finds intersections between little melodic motives, tight rhythmic kernels, and funky timbres that create a memorable blend. The music abounds in grooves and beats that are genuinely inventive and sharp, not cheesy. To take just one example: there’s a moment in Junk Box Fraud (1997) when the clarinet and piano take off on a little riff that feels like updated Stravinsky. Likewise, In the two solo works, Paddy (2003) for percussion, and pAt (2001) for piano and electronics, there are moments when the music slows down and opens enough for a sinuous little vamp to emerge, which reminds me of the sort of tinkling backdrop you hear in Balinese gamelan, between the explosions.

Dennehy also has a strong feel for how to use sounds outside of the usual musical palette. Glamour Sleeper (2002), for example, uses lots of concrete recorded noises and noises from the live instruments to create an effective continuum. Junk Box Fraud features both the deadpan rants of two vocalists and lots of deliberately retro electronic sounds, creating a constantly burbling sound-stew. And pAt has an announcer’s voice (very plummy BBC-ish) announcing varying numbers of bps (beats-per-minute), but at outlandishly high levels. The idea is that the figures actually translate into frequencies, rather than tempos for DJs, and hence are guiding the overall harmonic course of the piece as well as tempos related to those core pitches. It’s a good combination of the composer’s tongue-in-cheek humor with a real aspect of the music’s structure, derived from the joke. Two works don’t work quite as well for me. The violin concerto Elastic Harmonic (2005), which is the disc’s title track, has the virtue of a spacious and original orchestration, but the violin line, with its constant arpeggios and bariolage , just doesn’t have enough content to keep my interest. And the aforementioned Streetwalker (ironically considering its provenance) is the only work where the vernacular elements seem forced. It sounds like a lot of other BOAC pieces, kicky and satiric, but also a bit formulaic, produced on demand for a client whose tastes the composer seemed to know a little too well for his own good.

But four out of six ain’t bad, and even the ones I probably won’t return to have interesting aspects and moments. Throughout, I hear a strong personal voice and a sense of deep musical fun. The performances are all topnotch. Dennehy in fact was a founder of the Crash Ensemble, as he saw he needed a group to realize his vision, and so whipped it up in response. Koleva and MacGregor are both outstanding in precision and vitality. And both the German Ensemble Intégrales, and Morgan, Maloney, and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra create a beautiful sound world, no matter what I may think of the piece.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Glamour Sleeper by Donnacha Dennehy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ensemble Intégrales
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2002 
Paddy by Donnacha Dennehy
Performer:  Tatania Koleva (Percussion)
Period: 2003 
Junk Box Fraud by Donnacha Dennehy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Crash Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1997 
Elastic Harmonic by Donnacha Dennehy
Performer:  Darraugh Morgan (Violin)
Conductor:  Gavin Maloney
Orchestra/Ensemble:  RTE National Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2005 
Streetwalker by Donnacha Dennehy
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Crash Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2003 
pAt by Donnacha Dennehy
Performer:  Joanna MacGregor (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 2001 

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