Tuesday 22 December 2020

Irlandiani: Carina Drury's new disc explores the links between Italian composers in 18th century Dublin and Irish traditional music

Irlandiani - Bocchi, Geminiani, Carolan, traditional Irish; Carina Drury, Eimear McGeown, Nathaniel Mander, Aileen Henry, Poppy Walshaw; Penny Fiddle Records

- Bocchi, Geminiani, Carolan, traditional Irish; Carina Drury, Eimear McGeown, Nathaniel Mander, Aileen Henry, Poppy Walshaw; Penny Fiddle Records

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 22 December 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
For her imaginative debut recital, Irish cellist Carina Drury contrasts music by Italian composers in early 18th century Dublin with traditional Irish music and finds a fascinating trade between the two

During the 18th century, under the Protestant Ascendancy, Dublin thrived and became the second largest city (after London) in the British Empire. The city was the home of the Irish Parliament and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, there was plenty going on politically and culturally. So much so that, famously, George Frideric Handel took a break from his London seasons and at the invitation of the Duke of Devonshire, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, came to Dublin in 1741-1742 and presented a season of concerts at the Great Music Hall in Fishamble Street, using a mixture of imported and local talent, some of whom were immigrants themselves.

That Italian music was in vogue in London in the early 18th century, meant that the fashion transferred to Dublin and a number of Italian musicians established themselves in Dublin. Francesco Geminiani, who was a friend of Handel's and had performed with him, lived there in the 1730s and from 1758 until his death in 1762. Geminiani built a concert hall, known as Geminiani's Great Musick Room, and one of the other Italians to work there from early on was the cellist and gamba player Lorenzo Bocchi.

But there was an entirely different music scene happening in Ireland at the same time, separate and different. The Italians serviced the gentry of the Protestant Ascendancy, whilst the native Irish population had its own music, transmitted orally. Many of the local musicians would have spoken Irish and, they don't appear much in written records. It was 1724 before the first notated collections of Irish tunes was published.

It is easy to see these two musical worlds as separate, but the fascinating thing about cellist Carina Drury's new disc Irlandiani on Penny Whistle Records is the way she juxtaposes the two worlds and finds musical links and connections. Drury is joined by Eimear McGeown (Irish flute, Irish whistle), Nathaniel Mander (harpsichord), Aileen Henry (Italian baroque harp) and Poppy Walshaw (continuo cello) for a programme which includes two cello sonatas by Lorenzo Bocchi, and two cello sonatas by Francesco Geminiani, plus Lorenzo Bocchi's version of an Irish folk tune, and a selection of Irish folk tunes including music by Turlough O'Carolan, the famous Irish harpist composer.

Neal's Musick Hall, Fishamble Street, Dublin
Neal's Musick Hall, Fishamble Street, Dublin
Built 1741, where Handel's Messiah premiered
In 1724, John and William Neal in Dublin published A Collection of the Most Celebrated Irish Tunes: Proper for the Violin, German Flute or Hautboy, the first collection of its type of Irish traditional music, and more would follow including Burke Thumoth’s 12 Irish Airs from 1746. This generated interest in Irish traditional music in Dublin (in the way that such processes were happening in Edinburgh as well, see my article on the Scots Gaelic link to Beethoven's arrangements of Scottish songs). The Italian composers became interested in Irish tunes, Geminiani orchestrated 3 Scottish Airs with variations in his Treatise of Good Taste in the Art of Musick (published in 1749), whilst Bocchi's interest influence his composing style, and he wrote the altogether remarkable Plea Rarkeh na Rourkough or An Irish Weding Improved with Diferent Divitions after an Italian Maner.

But the traffic wasn't one way, and the Irish traditional musicians took on foreign influences. Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738) was one of the last Irish harpists in the traditional Gaelic manner, and a contemporary described him as preferring Italian composers to all others and being enraptured with Corelli.

In an article in the booklet, Carina Drury talks about hearing the Irish folk influences in the music of the Italian composers working in Dublin, but this disc does not push things. Drury and her collaborators simply perform the music side by side, giving us performances and arrangements of the Irish tunes (culled from Neal's 1724 book, Thumoth's of 1746 and melodies by O'Carolan) which could have been heard in polite Irish drawing rooms, and Drury talks about finding a balance of sound worlds between Irish flute, Irish whistle, baroque cello and baroque harp.

We begin with two cello sonatas by Bocchi, from his Musicall Entertainment for a Chamber Op.1, published in Dublin by John and William Neal. The two sonatas are both relatively short, three movements (fast, slow, fast) but technically challenging for all that. Bocchi was clearly no mean cellist and his writing is full of fast passage work and double stopping (the slow movement of Sonata X calls for the cellist to play two lines at once using double stopping). He has a melodically graceful turn of phrase, and it is not fantastical to hear the influence of his arrangements of folk tunes in the music.

Geminiani's Six Sonatas for Violoncello and Basso Continuo, Op. 5 were published in Paris in 1746, [coincidentally we heard Jonathan Manson performing another of the set with Arcangelo at Wigmore Hall last week, see my review] six years after Geminiani left Dublin after his first seven-year stay there. These are larger scale works, Sonata No. 3 is in four movements (slow, fast, slow, fast) the second of which lasts almost five minutes, whilst Sonata No. 6 is in three. Geminiani might have been a virtuoso violinist, but his writing for cello is highly idiomatic and challenging. Geminiani has a very distinctive harmonic turn of phrase and a nice ability to use the cello for expressive purposes as well as virtuoso ones.

Turlough O'Carolan
Turlough O'Carolan
With these superbly engaging and highly virtuoso performances from Drury, Mander and Walshaw we could be entirely happy simply listening to the music, enjoying the performers' sense of bravura, expressiveness and collegiality, so that sometimes Drury seems to be duetting with continuo cello Walshaw.

But then we hear, Bocchi's An Irish Wedding, here the group is joined by the Irish flute of McGeown, but she plays with period style too, this is an Irish flautist who has been brought into the drawing room to play for their so-called betters. And Bocchi's synthesis of Irish tunes and Italian construction is a complete delight, though short. Then Aileen Henry gives us Carolan's Concerto, and we are in a world which moves between the Irish traditional and Italian music of the drawing room.

Like other groups performing Scots tunes, the ensemble finds a fascinating continuum rather than two worlds. And this is something which was happening everywhere, the polite 18th century musical man or woman was interested in other musics, but on their own terms. Even in 1780s Calcutta, Indian musicians would be brought into the drawing rooms, their instruments re-tuned to the Western tuning of the harpsichord and they and the lady of the house would play along [see my article on Ensemble Tempus Fugit's programme, Calcutta]

This disc is a picture of music in 18th century Dublin, and it is a real melting pot with composers like Bocchi blurring Italian music at its edges, with Irish traditional music being brought in to the parlour and saloon and with a performer/composer like Carolan freely admiring the Italian composers.

It helps that the performances here are so engaging, so that this imaginative disc turns what might have been an academic exercise into a lovely recital.

Lorenzo Bocchi (fl 1720s) - Sonata IX in C major
Lorenzo Bocchi - Sonata X in D major
Francesco Geminiani (1687-1762) - Sonata in C major, Op.5 No. 3
Francesco Geminiani - Sonata in A minor, Op.5 No. 6
Lorenzo Bocchi - Plea Rarkeh na Rourkough or An Irish Weding Improved with Diferent Divitions after an Italian Maner
Turlough O'Carolan (1670-1738) - Carolan's Concerto
Traditional - Thomas Burke
Traditional - Limbrick's Lamentation
Traditional - Ye Clarge's Lamentation
Turlough O'Carolan - Captain O'Kane
Traditional - Capten Magan
Turlough O'Carolan - Sí Bheag, Sí Mhor
Traditional - Slaunt Ri Plulib
Traditional - The Major
Turlough O'Carolan- Carolan's Farewell to Music
Carina Drury (cello)
Eimear McGeown (Irish flute, Irish whistle)
Nathaniel Mander (harpsichord)
Aileen Henry (Italian baroque harp)
Poppy Walshaw (continuo cello)
Recorded at Our Lady Star of the Sea, Greenwich, London

Available from Carina Drury's website.

Elsewhere on this blog
  • Inviolata: lutenist Jacob Heringman returns to the fascinating genre of Josquin's sacred music intabulated for lute and for vihuela  - CD review
  • A thirty-year gap and clarinettist Ernst Ottensamer's last concerto recording: conductor Richard Stamp talks about the challenge and rewards of bringing his latest disc to fruition  - interview
  • Beethoven transformed: the second volume of Boxwood & Brass' series brings three bravura Harmoniemusik arrangements created in Beethoven's Vienna  - cd review
  • A sense of sharing material with each other: lutenist Ronn McFarlane and gambist Carolyn Surrick in Fermi's Paradox - CD review
  • Richness of invention in the contemplation of God in the beauties of nature: Iestyn Davies and Arcangelo in Handel's German Arias - concert review
  • Pagliacci: A powerful stripped back staging of the Verismo classic reveals the work's integral strengths  - opera review
  • Beethoven's Fidelio streamed from Opera North - opera review
  • Late Beethoven alongside Thomas Adès from the Solem Quartet at the latest of the imaginative concert series from Spotlight Chamber Concerts at St John's Waterloo - concert review
  • Flexibility is her mantra: I chat to soprano Claire Booth about her recent film of Francis Poulenc's opera La voix humaine - interview
  • Òrain Ghàidhlig Beethoven: on the trail of the Scottish Gaelic origins of Beethoven's folk-song arrangements  - TV programme review
  • Cinderella in Leeds: Pauline Viardot's chamber opera in a new film from Northern Opera Group - opera film review
  • Home

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