Friday 22 January 2016

Invisible Stars - the choral scholars of University College Dublin

Invisible Stars
Bill Whelan, Ivo Antognini, Michael McGlynn, Michael Rooney, Rolf Lovland, Desmond Early;
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 13 2016
Star rating: 3.5

Choral scholars from Dublin in a Celtic folk inspired programme

The Choral Scholars of University College Dublin, is Ireland's leading collegiate choral ensemble. On this disc from Signum Classics the ensemble is directed by Desmond Earley, founding artistic director of the ensemble. The disc, title Invisible Stars, showcases contemporary choral works from Ireland and Scotland many with a folk-influence. The works on the disc include music by Bill Whelan, Ivo Antognini, Michael McGlynn, Michael Rooney, Rolf Løvland and music by Desmond Early along with some of his arrangement of traditional melodies, and it is the sense of Celtic traditional musics which seems to inspire many of the works on the disc.

Mo Ghille Mear is a traditional song, arranged by Desmond Earley, which starts with just tenor solo (Mark Waters) backed by choir before adding a drum Tristan Rosenstock on bodhran) to terrific effect. Sun and Moon and Stars with words by Frank McGuinness and music by Bill Whelan (who wrote the music for Riverdance) was first performed in 2013. It starts with Emma Jane Murphy's soulful cello, adding a whispered choral part and then a very Celtic folk soprano solo Emily Doyle though Whelan's music does add interesting rhythmic elements to the prevailing soulfulness.

Choral Scholars of University College, Dublin
Choral Scholars of University College, Dublin

Ivo Antognini is in fact Swiss, and his setting of a poem by Francis Ledwidge, War, was written for the choir. This pairs the ensemble with David Agnew's expressive oboe in a piece full of interesting textures and not without drama. Michael McGlynn's Geantrai is a lively folk-inspired piece which is great fun and certain to get your toes tapping. Irish traditional The Gartan Mother's Lullaby, arranged by Desmond Earley, is lovely gentle piece with Geraldine O'Doherty's harp. And O'Doherty features in a solo role in Bill Whelan's inventive The Coast of Galicia.

Desmond Earley's setting of WB Yeats' He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven also features O'Doherty's elegant harp solo with the richly lyrical mezzo-soprano solo from Marie Woulfe which combined with the choir creates something which is highly romantic. Orphan Girl by Australian composer Brendan Graham is heard on Desmond Earley's arrangement featuring mezzo-soprano soloist Abby Moloy and guitarist Kevin Whyms in piece which has great charm with strong folk influences.

Ivo Antognini's Peace sets words by Eva Gore-Booth, for choir and David Agnew's oboe. It is quite a romantic piece with Antognini's jazz background showing through in the almost pop feel too the work. Desmond Early's arrangement of the Appalachian song Black is the colour of my true love's hair features a lovely tenor solo from Mark Waters, with the arrangement having a popular but attractively complex feel to it. Michael Rooney's Lands End features next as another harp solo; Rooney is himself a major exponent of the Irish harp.

Desmond Earley's arrangement of the traditional Irish Si do Mhamo i  is imaginatively lively and catchy, and is followed by Michael McGlynn's arrangement of the traditional Irish Siuil a Run. The lullaby Sleepsong sets a text by Brendan Graham and uses a melody by Rolf Løvland (founder of the Celtic group Secret Garden) in another arrangement by Desmond Earley. And it is Earley who is responsible for the arrangements of the final two items on the disc, a lovely version of The Skye Boat Song and the traditional Irish/Scottish The Parting Glass.

I have nothing but admiration for the singing on this disc, the young singers produce a lovely clear sound and form a sophisticated ensemble when it comes to the various styles of music required of them in these pieces. Desmond Earley is clearly a talented director, but I did wish that his choice of programme had had a little more edge and grit to it. As it is, this attractive selection does veer a little too often towards the romantic Celtic folk. For me it is a disc to dip into rather than listen to

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