C D Mad Sweeney
Another opportunity to get to know one of the most distinctive voices in Irish contemporary music, Frank Corcoran
Corcoran Mad Sweeney CD
Music for the Book of Kells
Sweeney’s Vision for tape
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Hard on the heels of Marco Polo’s issue of symphonies by Frank Corcoran – reviewed above – comes another disc of music by this fascinating composer. Corcoran, who was born in Tipperary in 1944, is a name in contemporary music who has eluded me until the appearance of the disc of the symphonies, and on the evidence of that disc I would certainly rank him as a major discovery of last year. He probably wouldn’t thank me for the comparison, but the best way to characterise his style might be to call him the Maxwell Davies of Ireland. I found the symphonies powerful, original and highly organic in structure. Black Box’s new disc offers us the chance to explore some of his music for smaller ensembles, as well as a remarkably atmospheric piece for tape.
Mad Sweeney for speaker and chamber orchestra is a setting of Seamus Heaney’s translation of an early Irish text about a 7th-century king from northern Ireland who went mad at the battle of Maigh Rath in AD 637, and who thereafter spent the rest of his life living wild as a fugitive and outcast.
The Sprechgesang-style speaking part is delivered here in fine dramatic fashion by Corcoran himself, and this is marvellously entwined within the complex musical argument provided by the chamber orchestra. I was continually drawn back to this piece and found much to discover on repeated hearings. Less gripping, I thought, was the percussion piece Music for the Book of Kells which Corcoran describes as ‘a terse musical discourse’ and as ‘not programmatic but rather an abstract structure in its own right’.
The Wind Quintet is in some ways a rather enigmatic, though nevertheless fascinating and thought-provoking piece that almost demands repeated hearings in order to penetrate its surface.
It uses a technique which Corcoran calls ‘macro-counterpoint’ and seems to have a fascination with the opening phrase from Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring which is quoted early on and thereafter hinted at throughout.
Described by Corcoran as ‘a four-movement, late-20th-century electronic symphony’, Sweeney’s Vision is a subtle and highly effective tape piece, which I would say successfully encapsulates Corcoran’s ideas about ‘mythic sound’ and ‘Irish dream landscape’.
Superb performances and excellent recorded sound – Corcoran fans will not be