Irish Baroque Orchestra at St Ann’s, Dawson St, on 24 February 2018
Over the last couple of years the bassoonist and, latterly, harpsichordist and director Peter Whelan has almost single-handedly been leading a drive to re-discover the music of eighteenth-century Dublin, with his regular returns to the city. Thus, having already experienced Whelan’s characteristic energy and canny musicianship, the announcement late last year that he was succeeding Monica Huggett as artistic director of the Irish Baroque Orchestra was met with real excitement. This afternoon sees his first concert with the IBO as its director, and so it’s appropriate that the programme is one that celebrates the violin culture of Georgian Dublin, reflecting both locally-based artists of the time and the composers whose works they performed.
The scene is set with the upbeat Overture ‘in the Grand Festino’ by Nicolo Pasquali, composed when he directed the band of Smock Alley Theatre. The busy opening and closing movements bookend a slow interlude, played with elegant smoothness. This leads on nicely to a known repertoire-piece played by Pasquali and his band, the familiar Concerto Grosso in G minor (the ‘Christmas Concerto’) of Arcangelo Corelli. The orchestra brings the work alive with a real sense of drive and energy, heard as much from the bottom of the texture as the top. The sense of ensemble is palpable, with Whelan not so much directing as energetically encouraging his fellow players’ collaboration.
Given the programme, the role of leader Claire Duff is key, and she responds with some beautiful playing throughout the concert, notably in the piece that follows. This Sonata No. 6, by William Viner, is a rare discovery, clearly a showpiece for the locally-based composer, but probably not heard in concert for nearly 300 years. Duff negotiates its running ornamented lines and dancing rhythms nimbly, a fascinating piece. This is paired with another sonata, this time putting cellist Sarah McMahon forward in an eloquent account of Lorenzo Bocchi’s virtuosic Sonata No. 10.
The first half is drawn to a close with two shorter pieces by Matthew Dubourg. His duties at Dublin Castle evidently didn’t stop him from learning Irish traditional tunes (Whelan reflects on accounts of him appearing in disguise at country fairs), as evidenced in violinist Marja Gaynor‘s arrangement – and performance – of Dubourg’s transcription of the song ‘Ciste nó Stóir’. The musical banter continues with ‘Dubourg’s Maggott’, its rough and rousing dance style a fun contrast with the rest of the programme.
This fascinating chain of pieces, played superbly by the Irish Baroque Orchestra, continues in the second half. Before the better-known Handel and Vivaldi works comes the Concerto Grosso in D by Pietro Castrucci—another important, yet rarely-heard figure—its beguiling manner brought across with crisp and stylish playing, and a nice interplay between soloists and the full ensemble. It’s good to see an imaginative programme brought together in this way, with no piece out of place. The Dublin that comes through is a rich and vibrant centre of activity, its musical heritage worth celebrating, exploring, and enjoying. The concert finishes with Geminiani’s witty concerto grosso-arrangement of Corelli’s ‘La Folia’ variations, with playing full of fire, flair, and brilliance. Hearing this ensemble, playing this music, in the Georgian splendour of St Ann’s church, feels like a homecoming, yet also a new beginning.
Pasquali: Overture in the Gran Festino
Corelli: Concerto Grosso in G minor, Op. 6 no. 8 (‘Christmas Concerto’)
Viner: Sonata no. 6 (for violin and continuo)
Bocchi: Sonata no. 10 (for cello and continuo)
Dubourg: ‘Ciste nó Stór’ & ‘Dubourg’s Maggott’
Castrucci: Concerto Grosso Op. 3 no. 12
Handel: Concerto Grosso in C, ‘Alexander’s Feast’
Vivaldi: Concerto No. 10 in B minor for four violins, from L’Estro Armonico, Op. 3
Geminiani: Concerto Grosso, ‘La Folia’, Op. 5 no. 12
Images by Sarah Doyle Photography