Expert performances of new works in by Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Various: Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble (David McCann [cello], Daniel Browell [piano], Aisling Agnew [flute], William Curran [clarinet], Keith Pascoe [violin]) / Sinead Hayes (conductor). Harty Room, Queens University, Belfast 20.5.2022. (RB)

Amy RooneyFlow State
Ian WilsonThe Emptiness of the Ever Expanding Universe Cannot Compare to the Void Where Your Heart Should Be
Rebecca SaundersThe Under-Side of Green
Eduard ZatriqiPierrot’s Splendiferous Symphonic Dances

Hard Rain SoloistEnsemble is a chamber music group from Belfast who are dedicated to the performance of modern and contemporary music.  In this concert the core members of the Ensemble were joined by violinist, Keith Pascoe. The concert featured two world premieres, by Amy Rooney and Eduard Zatriqi. Both composers were asked to look at what a new symphonic tradition might look like in the twenty-first century and their exciting new works are their responses to that commission.

Amy Rooney’s opening piece was influenced by the Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term ‘flow state’. A flow state can be defined as an effortless attention which happens when players are completely absorbed in listening to music. Rooney’s work is in two movements and it has a fluid and hypnotic quality.

Keith Pascoe’s violin opened the first movement in the upper register of the instrument before being joined by the other four players. The Ensemble did an excellent job sustaining the long lines and, under Sinead Hayes’s expert direction, they blended together in an imperceptible way. While the music was calm for the most part there were also elements of rhythmic dynamism. William Curran’s clarinet and David McCann’s cello created wonderful dark sepulchral timbres in the opening bars of the second the movement. Daniel Browell brought finesse and sensitivity to a piano interlude before the Ensemble joined forces to drive the piece to a conclusion.

Ian Wilson’s Emptiness of the Ever Expanding Universe is dedicated ‘to so-called leaders and people in power everywhere who pander to their own desires, dogmas, pockets…instead of serving the greater good’. The piece reflects the emptiness of political promises in music of meagre melodic and harmonic means.  This was music of the avant-garde with the pianist and string players using e-bows and percussion beaters and all the players deploying music boxes. Sinead Hayes did an excellent job bringing structural coherence to the work. I found it a slightly wacky although oddly compelling piece which worked well in its own terms.

Rebecca Saunders’s The Underside of Green forms part of a cycle of compositions that was influenced by Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy at the end of Joyce’s Ulysses.  The piece is scored for piano, violin and clarinet and the Hard Rain soloists played with conviction.  It is an abrasive, strident piece and I did not really warm to it. I struggled to find the connection to Molly Bloom and her erotic musings and affirmations.

The final work on the programme was Eduard Zatriqi’s Pierrot’s Splendiferous Symphonic Dances. The work is in four movements; this alludes to historical notions of symphonic form although there is structural mobility within and among the movements. The work has an underlying dramatic narrative based on the characters of the commedia dell’arte. The title of the four movements are: ‘A march to the Moon’; ‘A waltz with Columbine’; ‘A sabre dance with Harlequin’; and a ‘Passepied for Pierrot’.

The Hard Rain Ensemble successfully conveyed rich orchestral textures and sonorities in the opening movement. I was struck by the striking range of colours and the virtuoso demands of the works; hats off to all the soloists for rising to the challenge so well. The sinuous woodwind lines and impressionistic textures in the piano characterised the slower sections of the work. The Sabre Dance was spiky and trenchant and the woodwind players seemed to be driving the rhythms at either end of the pitch register. There was a very impressive cello solo in the movement which was very well executed by David McCann. There was impressive violin playing at the opening of the final movement and the five players combined once more to bring out the rich textures of the work before driving the work to its exciting conclusion.

The Hard Rain Ensemble did an excellent job breathing life into these exciting new works.  These new works by Amy Rooney and Eduard Zatriqi are superb and deserve to be performed and heard much more widely.

Robert Beattie  

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