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Dennehy: Gra Agus Bas / Pierson, O’lionaird, Upshaw, Crash Ensemble

Release Date: 05/03/2011 
Label:  Nonesuch   Catalog #: 527063   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Donnacha Dennehy
Performer:  Iarla O’lionáirdDawn Upshaw
Conductor:  Alan Pierson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Crash Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Back Order: Usually ships in 2 to 3 weeks.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

DENNEHY Grá agus Bás 1. That the Night Come 2 Alan Pierson, cond; Crash Ens; 1 Iarla Ó Lionáird (voice); 2 Dawn Upshaw (sop) NONESUCH 527063 (59:01)

This is the second full CD devoted to the music of the brilliant Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy (b.1970) but the first Read more release on an American label. (A previous portrait disc is on the wonderful British NMC label.) Dennehy began his education in his native Dublin, but came to the U.S.A. for graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After returning to Ireland, he became a very important presence in the new-music scene there, founding the Crash Ensemble and joining the faculty of his alma mater, Trinity College. However, Dennehy’s ties to the United States have continued. He has been involved with the Bang on a Can summer festivals and has pursued various projects with American performers and ensembles including conductor Alan Pierson and soprano Dawn Upshaw, both of whom perform on this recording.

Dennehy’s musical style is deeply vibrant, drawing on post-Minimalist rhythms and a sound world that combines jagged and raw elements (both acoustic and electronic) with lyricism and melody, sometimes connected to Irish folk music. The influence of compositional techniques from spectral music (particularly in deriving material from the overtone series and the timbral formants of instruments and voices) is also an integral part of his language, though employed in very different ways from the French spectral tradition. The resulting music is never less than viscerally exciting, often deeply beautiful, and thoroughly engrossing.

This release contains two extended song cycles. Grá agus Bás (2006–07) is inspired by sean-nós , an ancient Irish form of highly ornamented folk music, still transmitted exclusively orally. The title means “Love and Death” and the work was explicitly written for Iarla Ó Lionáird. He is a leading sean-nós performer and collaborated with Dennehy in bringing this style of singing into the context of a notated, contemporary composition. The piece draws upon two traditional sean-nós songs for its text and basic musical ideas. The ensemble accompaniment seethes with a dark, irresistible energy, and the harmonies (frequently employing tempered overtone partials to create a sort of just intonation) move in and out of focus. The work pulses toward an exhilarating conclusion.

That the Night Come (2010) is a more traditional vocal work and was again written for a specific performer, Dawn Upshaw. The cycle sets six poems by the great Irish poet W. B. Yeats, chosen in collaboration with Upshaw. Some of the poems are set in rather different manners from musical settings by other composers. Though the dark energy of the previous work is present in places, this work also employs a lush, often tonal lyricism. The voice is surrounded by an accompaniment of irresistible timbres (including particularly sensitive use of an accordion).

The composer-supervised performances are excellent. Alan Pierson is one of the most exciting figures in new music today, and he leads the Dennehy-founded Crash Ensemble in very tight renditions. Ó Lionáird and Upshaw are each perfectly suited to their respective pieces. This is a very fine release of music by an extremely compelling composer from whom you will be hearing much more. It is certainly Want List material for me.

FANFARE: Carson Cooman
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Works on This Recording

Grá agus Bás by Donnacha Dennehy
Performer:  Iarla O’lionáird (Voice)
Conductor:  Alan Pierson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Crash Ensemble
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Ireland 
That the Night Come by Donnacha Dennehy
Performer:  Dawn Upshaw (Soprano)
Conductor:  Alan Pierson
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Crash Ensemble
Period: 21st Century 
Written: Ireland 
Notes: That the Night Come:
1. He wishes his Beloved were Dead
2. The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water
3. The White Birds
4. These are the Clouds
5. Her Anxierty
6. That the Night Comes

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