That this is the first recording ever devoted exclusively to Irish composer Rhona Clarke’s work is a statement about serious neglect or, as Axel Klein phrases it in the liner notes, an opportunity for Clarke to step out of the shadows of contemporary Irish and European music. Heretofore known more widely for her choral compositions, this recording is devoted to three chamber works for piano trio, interspersed with three short pieces, several of which are presented here in their current, revised versions.
Clarke’s writing for piano, cello, and violin is sensitive, introspective at times, never esoteric, and always communicative in a highly personal way. One hears the influence of jazz in her harmonic language and rhythm, as well as in her method of composing, especially in the final piece, Piano Trio No. 4, “A Different Game,” which uses a technique of improvisation that then segues into the formal composition.
The disc begins with Piano Trio No. 3, a work of two contrasting movements labeled Tenderly and Expectantly in which one hears complex tonal chords, syncopated rhythms in the first movement, and tense, spikey, jagged lines of ascent and descent in the second. Taking its inspiration from Bartók, the earlier Piano Trio No. 2 assumes the middle section of the disc, again using two contrasting movements to create a romantic conversation between the violin and cello pitched over the barely moving ostinato on the piano. The last trio, from which the album takes its title, is the longest of the three, with four movements. Its subtitle refers to Clarke’s process of beginning in improvisation rather than notating initial ideas. The first movement, “Forethought,” began as the sound installation for the visual artist Marie Hanlon, and the music mirrors the visual in its jagged lines and dissonances surrounding a principal section that remains tonal. The second Moderato movement deconstructs a waltz, while the third, Largo, turns contemplative, followed by the manic Allegro dance of the fourth movement.
The trios are interspersed with three short works, each atmospheric and lyrical. Gleann Dá Loch is a musical depiction of the upper lake at Glendalough with the musical contrasts of the piece suggesting the tall dark mountains which flank the still, glistening waters. Con Coro uses violin, cello, and tape with taped notes often then being replicated by the live instrument. Instead of the choir indicated in the title, Clarke herself sings the plainchant melody of Ubi Caritas but with the electronic elements of the work, the effect becomes eerie and otherworldly. The final work on the album, In Umbra (In shadow), is a lovely wistful piece for solo cello that brings this disc of subtle variety to a contemplative close.
The Fidelio Trio—Adi Tal, Darrah Morgan, and Mary Dullea—plays with grace, commitment, and elegance. The acoustic on the studio recording is warm and rich. The CD comes with an informative introduction to the composer’s work and liner notes by Clarke herself on the individual tracks.
This recording offers a welcome sampling of Rhona Clarke’s instrumental work and goes a long way to enhancing her reputation as one of Ireland’s most original contemporary composers.