Iarla Ó Lionáird / Dawn Upshaw / Alan Pierson / Crash Ensemble

Donnacha Dennehy: Grá agus Bás

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Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy, born in Dublin in 1970, has developed a distinctive style that merges sophisticated contemporary techniques and a spirited post-minimalist aesthetic with a gritty urban energy in works like his violin concerto Elastic Harmonic and Junk Box Fraud, for chamber ensemble. In his 25-minute Grá agus Bás (Love and Death), written in 2007, he brings another element to his work; he directly addresses his heritage in Irish folk music, particularly the sean-nós tradition of unaccompanied, elaborately ornamented song. Working with sean-nós master singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, Dennehy selected two songs that form the basis of his new work, in which the source material is sometimes easily audible and sometimes transformed into something entirely new. Grá agus Bás doesn't sound like an awkward hybrid, though; Dennehy beautifully integrates its disparate elements to create a piece that is immediately appealing and viscerally compelling. He exploits the unique qualities of Lionáird's remarkable voice in a way that sounds both timeless and thoroughly modern. Alan Pierson leads Crash Ensemble, which Dennehy had a key role in founding in 1997, in a virtuoso performance, daunting in its rhythmic complexity and in the use of both equal and just tuning systems.

In contrast to the feral impetuosity of Grá agus Bás, That the Night Come, a cycle of six songs for soprano and chamber ensemble based on the poetry of Yeats, is more conventional but it reveals no less originality and inventiveness. Written at the request of Dawn Upshaw, who sings it here, the music demonstrates Dennehy's unerring gift for text setting that, though often unpredictable, is natural-sounding, lyrical, and elegant. The emotionally varied songs are immensely satisfying in their imaginative illumination of the poems. They are wonderfully well-suited to Upshaw's voice, and she sings with intensity, luxuriant warmth, complete ease, and nuanced musicality. The album is engineered with exemplary attentiveness to the music's exotic textures, and the sound is clean, full, and natural. Highly recommended.

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