Music in Monkstown Festival: 7-8 September 2019
As the summer sun begins to stretch into autumn, the seaside village of Monkstown becomes the setting for something more associated with picturesque country villages and towns further south and west, with its own chamber music festival. The brainchild of local musician John Finucane, Music in Monkstown is now in its sixth year, and looks set to stay a lot longer. We attended three of the concerts.
The afternoon concert is given by the National Chamber Ensemble, a quartet of players from the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra (hence the name), performing a programme of trios. Their opening combination is as a traditional piano trio, with Mozart’s Trio in B-flat (K.502) for Piano, Violin and Cello. Pianist Fergal Caulfield sets the tone with a clean and gently even sound. There is good interplay between him and Ting Zhong Deng (violin) and Martin Johnson (cello), though at times the violin tone seems to out-weigh that of the other two players, as if there is still a bit to go in building ensemble in this style. Such concerns, however, fall away completely for the next piece, Aram Khachaturian’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin, and Piano. Here Deng’s darker sound quality comes into its own as a foil to that of clarinettist John Finucane, and they clearly relish digging into the rich textures of this trio. The impressionistic, folk-inspired colours of this piece offer attractive opportunities to all three players, and they respond with some fine ensemble playing and witty exchanges, making a strong case for this work to be better known. Cellist Martin Johnson returns for the final work, Mikhail Glinka’s Trio Pathétique for cello, clarinet and piano, a superbly-crafted Romantic work, providing another stylistic turn to the afternoon. Here, smoothly cohesive playing is needed and this comes to the fore, along with some moments of almost operatic intensity. Johnson and Finucane play suavely and expressively, with Caulfield—the only player not to get a break—once again bringing the ensemble together with his sensitive playing.
This evening, we return to Monkstown Parish Church for an appearance by the Sacconi Quartet. They open with the short Romance by Rachmaninov, a soft-edged piece for muted strings, like an opening warm-up for our ears. The piece introduces us to a self-contained and well-matched team, creating a finely-balanced sound, before John Finucane returns to the stage for Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet. Unlike, say, the Brahms Clarinet Quintet for the same forces—or indeed the Khachaturian Trio from earlier in the day—which casts the clarinet as a pungent interloper in the ensemble, the Mozart Quintet is a far more mercurial work, demanding a carefully-integrated sound. The brilliant tone of the woodwind instrument, like a voice leaping up, gives the impression of having been miraculously summoned up by the strings. There are some exquisite moments during this performance, not least during the deeply-felt slow movement, with Finucane projecting a melting, ethereal tone, well-matched by the gentle elegance of the string-playing. The quartet rounds out the evening with Schubert’s Quartet No. 14 in D minor—known as the ‘Death and the Maiden’ quartet thanks to Schubert’s use of his song of that name, as well as the work’s overriding theme of haunted mortality. The players now bring a greater sense of edgy intensity to their tone, bringing out the complexity of the material with vivid attention to detail. The space resounds with the bell-like resonance of Schubert’s chords when they come. The song arrangement (with its variations) opens with gentle understatement, and as the movement progresses the quartet develops a moody and mysterious shimmer to the sound. The panic of the later movements, especially the finale, is brought over with some fiery, risky playing, adding almost an improvisational feel to the material, concluding an impressive reading of this challenging work.
This afternoon brings the debut appearance of early music ensemble Ceybele’s Flutes, a quartet of Fionnuala MacMahon (recorders), Miriam Kaczor (flute), Gabriele Dikciute (cello), and David Adams (harpsichord). They offer a programme of 17th– and early 18th-century material, linked by ideas of feminine characters and female performers, which works well. The song of Daphne (and variations) from Jacob van Eyck’s ‘Der Fluyten Lustof’, arranged as a dialogue for flute and recorder, serves as an introduction to the two wind players. Their tone is sweet and well-matched. Now joined by cello and harpsichord, a set of character pieces by Telemann follows, but the group really hits its stride with two airs by Jacques Hotteterre, Kaczor playing the vocal line in ‘Rochers, je ne veux point’ and MacMahon following suit for ‘Pourquoy, doux rossignol’. This set of French vocal pieces is completed with an arrangement of Diane’s air from Lully’s ballet Le Triomphe de l’Amour, played with beautiful sensitivity by the whole ensemble, coming together for a fine duet for the two wind-players at the end. It made one wish for more Lully. The set of dances from Les Caractères de la Danse, by Jean-Féry Rebel, also draw some fine performances, with well-judged ensemble playing, cleverly re-scaling this orchestral work to an intimate setting. The group close with three Italian works, and clearly enjoy the contrast in stylistic and harmonic palette that these pieces offer. They make a strong case for the neglected Bolognese composer Maurizio Cazzati. with an attractive performance of his trio sonata ‘La Martinenga’. Biagio Marini’s madrigalian sonata on the folk tune ‘La Monica’ glitters with its fast-paced melodies, before the group draws the concert to a close with the smart and elegant Sonata V by Isabella Leonarda. With this wide-ranging programme, Ceybele’s Flutes makes a promising opening with much to build on.
Once again, Music in Monkstown brings a stimulating mix of artists and music to audiences, offering an accessible musical snapshot and turning a commuter suburb, for this weekend at least, into a destination in its own right.