Ficino Ensemble at the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle, on 15 April 2017

Today the Ficino Ensemble is back in the centre of Dublin, playing a typically eclectic mix within the broad umbrella that is the MusicTown Festival. The Chapel Royal, that fabulous neo-gothic extravagance that no-one quite knows what to do with, provides the setting.

The oddly dry acoustic of the chapel can make it a tricky place for singers, but for an instrumental group like this it’s a good space, and they produce a full, clear sound—and this is just as well, with Philip Glass’ String Quartet No. 3 as the opening item. A piece like this turns on subtle shifts in colour and tone, and needs clarity and precision, which we certainly get. The four lines mingle and flow transparently, the gentle warmth of the string tone a nice counterbalance to the trancelike coolness of Glass’ familiar style.

After the insistent patterning of Glass’ minimalism, the four string players (Elaine Clark, Lynda O’Connor (violins), Nathan Sherman (viola), and Ailbhe McDonagh (cello)) turn to the riper textures of William Walton’s String Quartet in A minor. A fluidly organic piece, somehow suggesting a much larger frame, it draws some intensely engaged playing. The ensemble works together beautifully, creating a bright and febrile sound, clearly relishing the work’s innate theatricality.

Inevitably, though, the main draw of today’s programme is the closing piece, the Clarinet Quintet by Johannes Brahms, for which the string players are joined by clarinettist Macdara Ó Seiradáin. Far from being off the beaten track, this piece is well-known and much-loved for some, and it receives an affectionate performance here. One of Brahms’ many strengths is his innate feeling for lyrical melody, and Ó Seiradáin responds to the opportunities in this music beautifully, creating an almost vocal smoothness and expression with his playing. Together, the group bring across the work’s wistful mixture of nostalgia and sunshine with gentle assurance, and there are many moments to savour. It is certainly good to hear the Ficino Ensemble develop in a performance like today’s concert; here’s hoping a recording project will follow soon.

 

Programme:

Philip Glass: String Quartet No. 3 ‘Mishima’

William Walton: String Quartet in A minor

Johannes Brahms: Clarinet Quintet, Op. 115

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