This collection of 16 art songs by contemporary Irish composers offers the listener a fascinating array of poetic moods. Performed by mezzo-soprano Aylish Kerrigan and pianist Dearbhla Collins, two artists acclaimed for their performances of modern composers, the album is noteworthy for the way in which music and text are married to haunting effect.
Kerrigan’s mezzo is most convincing in its lower register, but she also has the ability to float some ethereal lines, and she is a master of dramatic delivery of text. Collins provides evocative sup¬port on the piano with the crystalline clarity of her tone and the fluidity of her line. Together they in¬habit the melancholy, sometimes mystical chiaroscuro of these six contemporary composers.
Among the most compelling groups is that devoted to the songs of Ina Boyle (1889-1967), a composer whose isolation kept her works from gaining the recognition they deserved and who has sparked a great deal of current interest. Her Three Songs by Walter de la Mare speak to the influence of her teacher, Ralph Vaughan Williams, and to Impressionist influences, in their sparse piano ac¬companiment, minor keys, and quasi-transcendent feeling, while her Sleep Song is a poignant lulla¬by. April Awake by Elaine Agnew to poems by John Hewitt paint musical images of the Glens of Antrim, evoking the rhythms of nature intertwining with the litanies of daily life, such as the recita¬tion of the evening rosary in “The Hill-Farm.”
Seoirse Bodley is represented by After Great Pain, which sets texts by Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman that explore the experience of suffering and work through pain to acceptance and a final acquiescence. The vocal writing contains tripping scales, a cappella passages, and dark chordal moments, as well as passages of serenity, culminating in the final song “Tie the strings to my Life, my Lord,” where the piano races ahead of the singer, leading her to Judgment. Another Bodley song, Remember, sets a Christina Rosetti poem as a tribute to the singer Bemadette Greevy and uses a con¬sonant but irregular musical vocabulary. The last Bodley work is a piano solo, The Tightrope Walker Presents a Rose, which juxtaposes traditional Irish tunes with abstract music, lyricism with darker dissonance, in a dialogue that suggests the precariousness of the acrobat’s métier.
Anne-Marie O’Farrell is represented by The Hoopee Song. Setting a text by Seamus Cashman, it recounts a walk to Mass in Jerusalem and mixes elements from Christian, Muslim, and Judaic music in its prayer for reconciliation and peace. Rhona Clarke contributes a setting of Molly Bloom’s speech from the “Penelope” chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses, in which the singer performs the text against a back¬drop of taped sound and song. The overlay of electronic and acoustic vocalism enhances the multiple layers of consciousness present in Joyce’s writing. Finally, the album concludes with its title song. John Buckley’s 1 am Wind on Sea, a piece written for Kerrigan using a text translated from the ancient Celtic. The singer accompanies herself with crotales and woodblocks and she employs flutter-tongu-ing, tongue clicks, approximate pitch, and vocal slides to capture the elusiveness of the elements.
The sound on the CD is crisp, clear, and nuanced nicely. The packaging of the CD is commend-able, with complete texts, informative liner notes about each work and composer plus both performers. For fans of contemporary art song, this collection will be a welcome addition to their libraries and a fine introduction to some of the prime movers of modern Irish song.