Echoes and Shadows
Quattro Stagioni1. Eigenschatten2. I Quattro Elementi3 ? 1Mia Cooper, 1Katherine Hunka, 1Ioana Petcu-Colan, 1Helena Wood, 2Dušan Panajotovi?, 2,3Dušica Mladenovi? (vn) ? FARPOINT 080 (62:15) 1Live: The MAC, Belfast, UK 9/20/2018. Reviewed from a WAV download: 44.1 kHz/16-bit
I was very taken with a disc of Ian Wilson's music recently (Fanfare 44:3); this recording on the enterprising Farpoint label, titled Echoes and Shadows: Music for Violins, continues the thread of excellence. Here, Wilson offers two sets of fours (seasons and elements) which surround Eigenschatten for two violins. In fact, there is an element of reduction as the disc goes on, from four violins, to two, to one. These are all world premiere recordings. It is astonishing to think that the first piece, Quattro Stagioni for four violins (2016), is caught live. Such is the excellence of performance (and its surrounding silence) that it is only the odd page-turn that gives away the live element-that, and the taut energy that threads through the event. The recording is nice and close, so we hear every aspect of the four violinists' articulation. Inspired by American artist Cy Twombly's huge canvases from the 1990s, Wilson presents a piece in four movements in which all of the four violinists has their own movements in which to shine, while the remaining three act together as a ripieno. Interestingly, Twombly's work has been linked to cultural memory; and of course Vivaldi's Quattro Stagioni is ingrained in Western culture. The four movements are spectacularly imagined, particularly perhaps the quasi-orchestral gestures of the finale (the order is "Inverno"; "Primavera"; "Estate" "Autunno"). The four violinists here positively glisten in the autumnal sunlight in this finale. The frozen wastes of winter find a glacial sonic counterpoint against which the solo violin can spin its lines. Vivaldian birds open "Primavera"; it is remarkable how Wilson aggregates the sound so that the individual birds merge into a "sonic flock." Wilson's summer seems to exist in a haze (the original painting is itself ambiguous, four yellow trails, somewhat amorphous).
The original Eigenschatten (2004) was for violin and live recording; this is the 2020 remake for two violins. Originally, then, this was a duet for one performer, a technique which also works for two violins, here Dušica Mladenovi? and Dušan Panajotovi?. This 25-minute piece (recorded in a wine cellar in Serbia) is a remarkable study in sonority as well as concept. The idea of the "echo" is reflected in the title: "Eigenschatten" means literally "own shadow." Both violinists here exhibit a purity of tone that suits this rarefied music to a tee, as well as a talent for poetic discourse. At times, it feels like the violins are speaking to one another (heard in this way, close dissonance can even inject a moment of humor). Broadly, the piece is a meditation on "solitude, space and distance" as the composer himself puts it. When the music seems to reduce down to single, high statements (around five minutes in), the effect is gripping: one is as involved in the silences between phrases as the phrases themselves. The moment of the introduction of the new material, at the halfway point, is impossible to miss: the texture becomes almost surreal, and certainly discombobulatory. Wilson's world is, as always with the composer, perfectly considered and managed.
Continuing with the idea of "fourness," not only do we now have I Quattri Elementi (The Four Elements, 2020), but each of its four movements is indicated to be played on only one of the four strings of the violin, G-A-E-D in turn. As with the seasons, Wilson's elements are short, around four or five minutes each. The reverberation of the acoustic is an artefact of the wine cellar in which it was recorded. Written for the performer here, with funds from a Cork City Council Arts Project award, the piece again speaks of expressivity, this time in more concentrated form. Violinist Dušica Mladenovi? seems to have considered the place of each gesture to the tiniest degree. The G-string is the element of Earth ("Terra"), and so the music often has a guttural aspect (the recording captures Dušica Mladenovi?'s flautando perfectly, too). Moving to the A-string, the element of water ("Acqua") certainly has a lighter demeanor; and although there is an emphasis on one note, there remains a fluidity of timbre. The E-string hosts fire ("Fuoco"), delivered with febrile intensity by Mladenovi? in a simply remarkable and occasionally stratospheric performance. The elusive element of air ("Aria") is almost inaudible for the first third of its duration, its swishings perhaps best experienced via headphones. Given the currency it deserves, this piece has all of the qualities to be a major addition to the solo violin repertoire.
A window is offered here into the world of Ian Wilson, featuring performances of complete command. A most stimulating release.
Colin Clarke, Fanfare magazine, Sept/Oct 2021.
Wild is the wind
1.Denier; 2.Wild is the Wind; 3.Species Counterpoint; 4.The emptiness of the ever-expanding universe cannot compare to the void where your heart should be; 5.motherFUNK!; 6.Nox • 1Siobhan Doyle, 1Brendan Garde (vn); 1Aoife Nic Athlaoich, 1Sinéad O’Halloran (vc); 1Fiona Kelly (fl); 2Gareth Davis (bs cl); 3Cathal Roche (bar sax); Ties Mellema (3, 5bar sax, 5loopstation); 4Hard Rain Soloist Ens; 6Yurodny Ens • DIATRIBE 033 (71:35)
"I first came across Ian Wilson’s music via a Black Box disc of his string quartets featuring the Vanbrugh Quartet. I was impressed by the music of the Belfast-born composer then, and am impressed now, some 18 years later.
The first piece, Denier (2019), is scored for flute, two violins, and two cellos. “Denier” in this context refers to someone who denies, as opposed to a measurement unit used in textiles. A list of that which is perceived to be denied is included in the booklet notes (including climate change, facts, the Holocaust, and so on). The terrifically active solo part was written for the present performer, Fiona Kelly, at the request of the Ortús Festival, and three out of the five players, including Kelly, performed at the work’s world premiere in Cork, Ireland, in February 2018. The solo line is designed to be simultaneously “thrilling” and “hollow.” Perhaps the real heart of the work is the moments of blanched, frozen harmonies in the strings, an underpinning of the solo part’s implicit vacuity and perhaps what remains when the “noise” is excised. Kelly is beyond criticism; this is some of the finest flute playing I have heard in a long time, exuding an authority that only one immersed in the music of our time can generate. It also has the necessary enthusiasm, for the task of the flutist here is to “whip up the strings into a frenzy.” The haunting simplicity of some of the gestures is cast in stark relief by the curlicues of the flute.
For solo bass clarinet, Wild is the Wind (2018) takes the mesmeric, enigmatic Nina Simone song as a starting point. Premiered by the present performer in Utrecht, the Netherlands, it was expressly written for Gareth Davis’s ongoing series of reimagined jazz standards. Taking gestures from the song and the melody itself, and placing the entire experience into a very different, far more sparsely populated, deconstructed sonic landscape, Wilson creates what is sometimes an emotional equivalent to the original, and sometimes what appears to be the equivalent of taking a line for a walk, this time into the hinterlands of modern jazz. Davis’s dynamic range is remarkable, his control at near-silence levels a joy in and of itself.
Found sounds from the Irish countryside, from rushing water to tweeting birds, meet the interactions of an improvised line and a notated line on two baritone saxophones in Species Counterpoint (2019). The piece explores wildlife under threat of extinction in County Sligo. Certainly the idea of alarm is present in the music and with it, implicitly, a will to survive. The nature sounds do in fact add a real dimension to the piece; they are far more than atmospherics, even before the underlying concept of the urgent need to encourage biodiversity in response to climate change is explained. The idea of two lines, one of which is fixed and another which may or may not “speak” to the other, works beautifully; this is a fascinating example of how convincingly creative the act of improvisation can be.
Wilson makes a direct analogy in stripping down his musical materials to the bare minimum and the shallowness and emptiness of political promise and desire in The emptiness of the ever-expanding universe cannot compare to the void where your heart should be (2018, otherwise known as TEOTEEUCCTTVWYHSB and also The emptiness …). The traditional instruments used are alto flute, bass clarinet, piano, violin, and cello, but they are augmented by music boxes for everyone, an e-bow and percussion beaters for the pianist, plus an analog radio, and resonators. The sound world is once again sparse, but somehow hopeful despite the title; perhaps it is the Cageian beauty of the sounds themselves that elicits that comment. There’s quite a change in shifting to the rhythmic, jazzy-Minimalist opening to motherFUNK! (2012) for baritone sax and Boss RC-300 loopstation, which is (eminently believably) the first ever work for this combination. The loops work supremely well; it is inspired by the work of World Looping Champion Shlomo. Occasional parallel movement implying a sort of clarineticized accordion. Astonishingly, this is a live performance with no edits, from Amsterdam’s wonderful Muziekgebouw (I was lucky enough to hear Stefano Landi’s La morte d’Orfeo there a few years ago, conducted by Christophe Rousset).
Finally, there comes Nox (2008) for two violins, viola, two cellos, soprano sax, tárogató, two trumpets, trombone, cimbalom, piano, double bass, and drums. If that sounds like a jazz ensemble with an ethnic twist, you are bang on. There are featured solos, brilliantly executed, by Mihály Borbély on tárogató (a folk wind instrument) and the excellent Tom Arthurs on trumpet. The piece was written on the request of the present jazz-folk ensemble Yurodny and is dominated by a 13-beats-to-a-measure pattern (3+3+2+3+2). It is simply beautiful, by far the most laid-back track on the disc. But like everything on the disc, it is well worth investigating.
The recordings are superbly managed by the various teams; the disparate locations are thus unified by excellence. Absolutely recommended without hesitation."
Colin Clarke, Fanfare magazine, Jan/Feb 2021
METROPOLIS MCD098 (2019)
The Anime Violin Trio and Dušica Mladenović perform "1927" for three violins and "Sonata for Solo Violin"
"Ian Wilson's "1927" for three violins was written for Trio Dominante, Belgrade’s first violin trio which Dušica Mladenović led before later founding the Anime Quartet and Trio. A review of the first performance described the work as "strikingly original", which is certainly true. For all that it shows, to me a lover of intimate chamber music, the ability to use the three violins to create images. Listeners open to new sounds and textures should certainly try this work.
The final item is Wilson’s Sonata for Solo Violin in three movements: Reeyill, Aire and Jigg. It is played by Mladenović who again seems to convey the intricacies and above all the emotion of the three parts. Dušica plays this sometimes frantic, always spirited music with considerable skill.
This is undoubtedly a challenging recital of modern chamber music that requires effort and commitment from the listener. I found it absorbing and worth the effort. The performers are to be congratulated."
Musicweb International, June 2020
As the quiet crow flies
Farpoint Recordings fp058 (2016)
crOw and The Quiet Club perform As the quiet crow flies (2015).
"... the quiet and understated music in these grooves ... is a slow and thoughtful exploration of sonic interplays and long tones…the listener can’t help but hear echoes of weather and oceans (and the cries of seagulls) in these abstract sounds. This may indicate that these players, unlike some more recondite EAI players, have not lost sight of some basic truths which help to root their work in the real world, and they’re not afraid to tell stories in their music. This is refreshing; one gets tired of all that non-associative music, which often ends up blank and empty, and As the quiet crow flies is bound to connect to any human being who has travelled overseas, gone for a solitary walk on the hills, or even simply gone outside."
The Sound Projector, April 2017.
"Here we have two 'of Ireland's most innovative duos’, so sayeth the label, who got together on 5th December 2015 at The Model in Sligo. I hadn't encountered these duos before, so an introduction to them. In the left corner we find The Quiet Club, which is Danny McCarthy and Mick O'Shea, who play sound objects, electronics and amplified textures (says the cover) and/or stones, homemade instruments, electronics, amplified textures, theremins, field recordings (says the information sheet). In the right corner we find crOw (as they spell it), being Cathal Roche on alto saxophone and loopstation and Ian Wilson on electric guitar, e-bow and toys. Apart from improvising, crOw 'also seeks to respond to its performative environment by adjusting its sound parameters in real time in order to engage the acoustic and architectural properties of the auditorium itself in performance'. I made up those left and right corner positions of course; I have no idea how they were situated on stage. I am not sure who takes lead here, if anyone at all, but it lives up to the name the quiet club; it could be the name for all of them, as the music is throughout mostly very quiet. Especially in the first twenty or so minutes it seems as The Quiet Club takes the lead with lots of crackles, objects such as paper and plastic being amplified. The sound of the alto saxophone seems far away, if not absent. But no doubt Roche uses it as an object too. In the other thirteen minutes the volume goes up a bit, and the saxophone and guitar are clearly more audible here, and there is a fine interplay going on between objects, surfaces, contact microphones and the two instruments, also allowing the electronics to play a bigger part here. There is quite some tension in this music, between these four players and it is all less based in the world of traditional improvisation, and more from the world of electro-acoustic music, with the emphasis on the word of acoustic. This is a great work of improvised music from a more unusual perspective."
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly, number 1049, September 2016.
Piano Quartets by Bridge, Bax, Wilson, Walton
Nimbus Alliance NI6230 (2013)
The Cappa Ensemble performs Noct for violin, viola, cello and piano (2011).
"...And there's no underselling of the exuberance of the Walton, with its insistently chunky rhythms in the finale. The performances of Bax's Piano Quartet and Ian Wilson's Noct, an atmospheric night piece that's anything but calming (especially in its use of microtones), is equally fine. This is hardly surprising in the case of the Wilson - it was specially written for these players."
Irish Times, May 2013 (5 stars)
New Irish Music
RTÉ Lyric fm CD149 (2015)
The Chatham Saxophone Quartet performs Heaven lay close for saxophone quartet and bodhrán (2009)
"Ian Wilson's heaven lay close began life as music for tabla and string quartet, but this transcription effects no less imaginative a meeting of cultures, played out over four movements which between them constitute a trajectory that is symphonic in its expressive range and formal cohesion."
Gramophone, July 2015
Diatribe label DIACD016 (2014)
Matthew Schellhorn performs Stations for piano (2006-07).
“This is a substantial work whose music is intricately worked-out. I am sure that it would take a long and detailed analysis to bring out all the subtle inter-relationships of the various elements that make this imposing structure so compelling.
Matthew Schellhorn's committed approach is aided by his unfailing technique to bring out the best of this extraordinary construction. His beautifully shaped performance is also well served by an excellent recording allowing for a natural piano sound that never sounds aggressive even in the more forceful moments.
Ian Wilson's Stations is a major addition to the piano repertoire of the twenty-first century.”
MusicWeb International, March 2015.
"The stations of Ian Wilson's 72-minute solo piano work are the Stations of the Cross. While the music is not intended to be programmatic, it doesn't eschew programmatic effects. Wilson has chosen to name his 14 movements simply as Stations 1-14, but the specific scene and emotional charge of each station were clearly in his mind and can be felt as well in parts of the work, although it remains altogether more contemplative than pictorial. The musical style is polyglot (occasional flavours from Feldman and Messiaen stand out without being disruptive), the manner often obsessive, the mood concentrated. Matthew Schellhorn plays with a control that matches the determination and focus of the work as a whole."
The Irish Times, 14th March 2014 (4 stars).
"Wilson builds his spare yet rigorous reflections on the Stations of the Cross towards dramatic climaxes. Matthew Schellhorn's crisp, committed performance avoids melodrama and sentimentality."
BBC Music Magazine, May 2014 (4 stars).
The Book of Ways
Limb from Limb label LfL003 (2011)
Cathal Roche and the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet perform The Book of Ways (2011).
"...some fascinating oriental evocations and microtonal scrunches."
The Irish Times, 22nd July 2011.
Amstel Records AR008 (2011)
Niti Ranjan Biswas and the Amstel Quartet perform heaven lay close for tabla and saxophone quartet (2009).
“Amstel Quartet house composer Ian Wilson made a jewel.....”
Trouw (Amsterdam), March 16th 2011.
RTÉ Lyric fm label CD126 (2010)
Rebecca Hirsch, violin and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Gerhard Markson and David Porcelijn perform an angel serves a small breakfast - violin concerto no. 2 (1999), Man-o'-War (2001), Licht/ung (2004) and Winter finding (2004/5).
"After recent discs of Ian Wilson's string quartets and works for string orchestra, this strikingly well‑performed collection shows the northern Irishman working with a much more vivid instrumental palette. In Man-o'-War, a Proms commission from 2001, that vividness is almost overdone, becoming an end in itself. Winter Finding uses a series of paintings by Cy Twombly, mediated by a poem by Lavinia Greenlaw, as the starting point for a series of seasonal impressions, mostly delicate, though occasionally eruptive, while Licht/ung also has a visual inspiration - photographs of the effects of the Nagasaki atomic bomb. Perhaps the most impressive work, though, is the earliest - the violin concerto from 1999, in which the irrepressibly lyrical solo line unravels like a bundle of threads as it weaves through the orchestral textures; the idea is wonderfully sustained and generates music of great beauty."
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 26th August 2010 (Four stars).
"Ian Wilson's thrustingly aggressive Man-o'-War , commissioned for the 2001 BBC Proms, unleashes orchestral violence with the abandon of Edgard Varèse. Wilson throws in some microtonal writing for strings, and there's even a mysterious suggestion of a chorale at one point. The Paul Klee-inspired an angel serves a small breakfast , his second violin concerto, written for Rebecca Hirsch in 1999, presents a dreamy, fluttery, lightly soaring lyricism. Cy Twombly's Quattro Stagioni , refracted through poems by Lavinia Greenlaw, are behind the atmospheric, high contrasts of Winter Finding (2004-5). Shomei Tomatsu's 1961 photographs of atomic-bomb damaged Nagasaki gave rise to the threatening growls, shearing lines and lonely spaces of Licht/ung (2004). Strong performances from the NSO."
Irish Times, 24th September 2010 (Four stars).
"RTE's handsomely played portrait-disc demonstrates Wilson's skills as dramatist and colourist.Written in 1999 and inspired by Paul Klee's painting An Angel Serves a Small Breakfast is an intricate, elegaic concerto for violin (Rebecca Hirsch). Man-o'-War (2001) is a vivid, explosive showpiece, bristling with rebarbative solos and menacing percussion. Lavinia Greenlaw's poems provide a bridge from Cy Twombly to Wilson's restless Winter Finding (2004/5), while Shomei Tomatsu was the inspiration for Licht/ung (2004)."
The Independent (Anna Picard), 12th September 2010.
"According to RTÉ Lyric FM, Ireland's only art music label, their goal is "to promote classical music, Irish musicians and composers at home and abroad by creating a commercially available, quality record of how much incredible music is being made in this country." Not only are they doing a splendid job, but Ian Wilson's works are a fine example of the exciting things happening in Irish music.
Man-o'-War was commissioned by and premiered at the BBC Proms in 2001. With its prominent brass and percussion, it is a driving, muscular work as audacious and malevolent as a deadly jellyfish, English warship or thoroughbred racehorse.
An Angel Serves a Small Breakfastis the not altogether helpful title of what is in effect Wilson's second violin concerto, written for the soloist here, Rebecca Hirsch. The title is printed in the documentation uncapitalised, presumably because it takes its name from a pretentious lithograph by Paul Klee ('Ein Genius Serviert ein Kleines Fruhstück', 1920, and not apparently de-capitalised itself), but Wilson's writing is anything but pretentious. Sounding more like a violin concerto slow movement, and written in fact as such, the violin part is blended into the orchestral texture - instead of traditional heroic/virtuosic opposition, there is a modern integration, with the violin and orchestral strings mainly adhering to their upper registers to give an almost rhapsodic feel.
Winter Finding was commissioned by RTÉ and is Wilson's one-movement musical response to four poems by Lavinia Greenlaw, in turn commissioned by Wilson! The poems, which are included in the booklet, loosely allude to the four seasons of the year, and are of the take-them-or-leave-them variety, but Wilson's work again outshines its inspiration. Wilson appears to have Irish weather at the back of his mind, because the bristling, energetic music is generally short on sunshine and calm, yet nor is there ever a dull moment, particularly when a squall briefly whips up towards the end.
All the works so far showcase Wilson's musical imagination and considerable orchestrational skills, but the final work, Licht/ung, despite its rather showy oblique, in some ways surpasses what has gone before. Wilson's extra-musical inspiration here was a series of photos of post-apocalyptic Nagasaki taken in 1961. Given the subject matter, no musical response is likely to be sunny or upbeat, and that much is true ofLicht/ung, yet Wilson manages to extract some moments of calm reflection and melancholic realisation from the memories of awful destruction and desolation. Nevertheless, this is a dark, bleak, expressive work that cedes little ground to tonality or melody. Though viscerally exciting, it is wisely placed as the final track, but after the first three works have been digested, most listeners should find it quite accessible.
Wilson's music is wonderfully played by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra under the expert guidance of Porcelijn and Markson. Sound quality is absolutely superb - an example to all labels of the kind of quality that is attainable. The booklet does not say what works were recorded on which dates, but is otherwise informative, with good notes on the music by Tim Rutherford-Johnson."
Musicweb International, July 2011.
"All four works recorded here clearly display Wilson's orchestral mastery and vivid imagination. It's all immensely appealing.
Although clearly of our times Wilson's music has a real expressive strength and, for all its internal complexity, remains generously accessible. This is a very fine release that should appeal wholeheartedly to anyone willing to investigate accessible, well crafted and sincere music-making."
Musicweb International, June 2011.
Riverrun Records RVRCD80 (2009)
Gordana Matijevic-Nedeljkovic, violin, Hugh Tinney, piano and The Belgrade Strings, conducted by the composer, perform Sullen earth for violin and strings (2005), Limena for piano and strings (1998) and The Capsizing Man and other stories for string orchestra (1994/97).
“Blistered and bent into quartertones, the buckling solo line in Ian Wilson's 2005 violin concerto "Sullen Earth" picks obsessively at fragile, folklike figures before bursting into lyricism against the wheezing, accordion-like harmonies of the string orchestra. It's a bold work, and a bold performance from Gordana Matijevic-Nedeljkovic and the Belgrade Strings, who also accompany pianist Hugh Tinney in Wilson's subdued "Limena" (1998). Disturbing and cute, "The Capsizing Man" sees Wilson at his most accessible.”
The Independent (Anna Picard), 16th August 2009.
“Commissioned by the Serbian musical forces in ardent evidence here, Ian Wilson's 2005 Sullen Earth is an archetype of a more recent compositional process that focuses on "stand-alone" building blocks of musical thought. The result is a distillation of conventional narrative or technical development into raw cells of emotion. Here combined with ['Limena' for] piano and strings, a more melodically florid affair, and the suite, 'The Capsizing Man', itself a juxtaposition of five concisely contemplated ideas, the disc is a well-balanced recital in itself. The added bonus is the presence of the composer as conductor.” (5/5)
Sunday Tribune, 23rd August 2009.
“Two years ago, Riverrun released a disc of Ian Wilson's string quartets - four of them - and has now brought together three of his works involving string orchestra. Wilson's style has changed since 1999, when he was forced by Nato bombing to leave Belgrade and return to Ireland. The later music seems rougher hewn: less concerned with making formal patterns and more with expressing what it wants to say directly, often by boldly juxtaposing contrasting kinds of music material. That technique is seen in Sullen Earth for violin and strings, from 2005, in which everything is pared down to its emotional core, allowing the highly wrought textures to relax just once for an archaic-sounding lyrical interlude. Limena, from 1998, expands a solo piano by surrounding it with muted string textures, while the five taut miniatures that make up The Capsizing Man and Other Stories are all inspired by Giacometti sculptures.”
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 21st August 2009.
“The three string orchestra works recorded here traverse more than 10 years. Limena, “for piano and muted strings” (1998), makes the greatest impression. It begins in media res, with solo piano (Hugh Tinney) and orchestra appearing to drift in different musical worlds, the piano dribbling in a kind of melancholy rumination, the strings engaged in a distant commentary, independent-seeming yet related. It’s like something forever feeding fascination to the corner of your eye.”
The Irish Times, 28th August 2009.
Diatribe Records DIACD006 (2009)
Cathal Roche, saxophones, Mia Cooper, violin, Stu Ritchie, drums, Cliona Doris, harp, Richard O'Donnell, vibraphone, Daniel Bodwell, double bass
Double Trio (2008)
“The worlds of jazz and "classical" collide in this newly state-commissioned composition. The words of various interviewed residents of the Glencullen area are central to Wilson's composition, and it is from whence that the rhythms and melodies of the score are often directly derived. Also calling on jazz musicians to frequently improvise, the breadth of the work, for obvious reasons, is ambitiously vast. Its natural rhythm is its lifeblood, one which sustains joyous chaos and rustic beauty.”
Sunday Tribune, May 3rd 2009.
“Double Trio is the product of Ian Wilson’s year-long residency in the Glencullen electoral area south of Dublin. Commissioned by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council as part of its Place and Identity programme, it is based on interviews with local residents conducted by the composer and offers eight portraits of an area Wilson describes as ‘one of the least spoiled parts of the country and, paradoxically, one of the areas which has seen most development’.
Wilson explores the effects of the unprecedented changes felt during the now long-gone period when the Celtic Tiger economy was roaring its loudest. Each work begins with a snatch of speech drawn from Wilson’s fieldwork to prompt and punctuate a series of loose-limbed, lightly textured, jazz-accented pieces that strive to mimic the rhythms and patterns of everyday life and speech in Glencullen.
Double Trio’s title alludes to the instrumental forces assembled and picks up where 2007’s re:play, which brought together an improvising saxophone and a classical sextet, left off. Here, improvisation is discernibly to the fore, with three instruments more usually associated with jazz – saxophone, double bass and drums – allowed comparatively free room to ad lib than their score-centred, classically inclined trio of violin, harp and vibraphone.
While Wilson provides beginning, end and clear pointers of direction in between, much of the energy of the work comes from the variants and flights of fancy of the jazz trio. There’s an enchanting playfulness to ‘The Kids’, where individual instrumental voices weave around each other in flowing ribbons of energy and exploration. With onomatopoeic percussion, ‘The Stonemason’ boasts its own industriously alert moments. I would have liked a few more hard facts about ‘Catherine’, not least for the sheer vivacity of the music that describes her, skipping and dancing with a gleeful scattiness that calls Neal Hefti to mind.
There’s something altogether more cautious and circumspect about instrumental relationships in the bebop-peppered ‘The Reverend’, while ‘Residents’ is populated by a number of precisely characterised musical portraits. If ‘The Hostelry Manager’ seems to stray towards period pastiche in its depiction of ‘a place that has hardly changed at all’, its not clear whether this is by design or default, the vibraphone (Richard O’Donnell) becoming the fourth partner in a jazz ensemble given its head. Either way, it translates into moments of frozen nostalgia that is curiously affecting.
Low-register pulses on vibraphone and double bass (Dan Bodwell) anchor Cathal Roche’s boozy, lachrymose saxophone and Stu Richie’s slurred percussion in ‘The Forest Manager’ to evocative effect and in austere contrast to the busy messiness of ‘The Convenience Store Owner’ in which harpist Clíona Doris adds her own delightfully minimalist commentary.
An interesting experiment with interesting results, Double Trio points to council money having been well spent.”
The Journal of Music, August/September 2009.
Limb from Limb Records LFL 001 (2008)
Mark O’Keeffe, trumpet, plays
TUNDRA for trumpet and electronics (2008)
Electronics in collaboration with Jürgen Simpson
“Recently realised in its full multimedia and dance performance context at the Dublin Fringe Festival, Ian Wilson's work for what is essentially solo trumpet, performed with a searing brilliance by Mark O'Keefe, enjoys a life of its own here. Infused with all varieties of sound manipulation and electronics, it weaves sonic threads of intrigue and drama. The result is not always detailed enough in the electronic elements to skirt repetitiveness but dark, shadowy timbres and interrogative melodic narrative still create a compelling experience.” (4/5)
Sunday Tribune, September 21st 2008.
“Ian Wilson is surely one of the busiest of Irish composers at the moment – and one of the most diverse and wide-ranging. This latest offering is the score for a multi-media dance performance that will be seen for the first time on 7th September at The Empty Space in Dublin’s Smock Alley as part of this year’s Fringe Festival.
An electro-acoustic work for trumpet and tape, Tundra follows, on disc at least, recordings of works for string quartet (reviewed in the July–August 2007 issue of JMI) and two expressive miniatures for alto saxophone and guitar (JMI, March–April 2007). It has already had its broadcast premiere on RTÉ lyric fm in a concert that included works by Seóirse Bodley and Raymond Deane, useful musical bookends to momentarily frame so omnivorous a composer as Wilson.
Inspired by the performer Anne Gilpin, Tundra takes two very different art works as its starting point: Wordsworth’s wistfully nostalgic poem ‘Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey’, and pioneering American photographer Laura Gilpin’s compelling frontiers landscape from 1917, The Prairie, in which a lone female figure stands dwarfed by a vast cloud-filled sky as the sparse conjoined terrain of the Colorado landscape stretches flat and featureless to the horizon and out of the edges of the image. (Curiously, this is not the image featured on the CD sleeve.)
Featuring one-time RTÉ Musician of the Future and now BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra principal, Mark O’Keeffe, on trumpet, and engineered and co-produced by Jürgen Simpson, the project also announces a new label, Limb from Limb Records.
Tundra is structured in ten parts, including a prologue, ‘pre prologue’ and three short interludes. It begins in a protean wash of dirty-grey noise within which seems locked a blurred yet palpable pulse, cyclical but uneven – breath, perhaps, or a heartbeat, or the unmediated depositing over time, like erratic glacial moraines, of memories of now half-remembered places.
A flourish of double- (or triple-?) tonguing on the trumpet heralds a series of dark-hued interactions between it and Wilson’s formless but appropriately gritty and granulated soundscape that are terse, tentative and tremulous before gradually acquiring an equilibrium that enables them to come briefly, if always approximately, into focus.
The blanching effects of the interludes are followed by more animated interplay between electronics and, occasionally, multi-tracked trumpet, the first dialogue between the two hinting at the possibility of a common language. Throughout Tundra’s 42-minute playing time, the improvisational quality of the trumpet is provoked and paralleled by the coarsely delineated accompaniment, alluding, perhaps, to Wordsworth’s vicarious ‘gleams of half-extinguished thoughts’ and conjuring the elemental immensity of Gilpin’s photograph to intriguing effect. A densely conceived work, then, that demands determined and sustained excavation by the listener, a requirement that might have been facilitated by the inclusion of commentary or notes.”
The JMI, September/October 2008
Riverrun Records RVRCD77 (2007)
The Callino Quartet
Veer - quartet no. 4; …wander, darkling - quartet no. 5; In fretta, in vento - quartet no. 6; Lyric Suite - Seven Elegiac Pieces for string quartet
“[The quartets] are all imposing, highly wrought structures. [The 5th and 6th] are both extended single musical spans, and both wonderfully vivid in these performances by the Callino Quartet.”
The Guardian (Andrew Clements), June 22nd 2007.
“This CD received its launch two weeks ago in Bantry at the Callino festival and a remarkable contribution to the contemporary Irish repertoire it is. Wilson’s 4th, 5th and 6th quartets, all written within an 18-month period shortly after he was forced to relocate from Belgrade due to the NATO bombing in 1999, are presented here alongside his 2004 “Seven Elegiac Pieces” (Lyric Suite). The stark coldness of the 4th, 5th and 6th is achieved with some extraordinary extended string techniques whilst the Lyric Suite allows the Callino Quartet exploration more specific to their own honeyed sound.” (Four stars).
The Sunday Tribune, April 22nd 2007.
“Ian Wilson is the Irish composer who seems most ready to engage with the string quartet. This new disc includes his Fourth (Veer), Fifth (…wander, darkling), and Sixth (In fretta, in vento), as well as the later Lyric Suite of “Seven Elegiac Pieces”. The most impressive work here, and the one with the longest unbroken span, is the 18-minute Fifth, a piece that is often sonically pinched and emotionally anguished - it was written during one of the most difficult times in the composer’s life. The lashing first movement of the Edvard Munch-inspired Fourth is like its expressive inversion. The Sixth and the elegies are more diffuse and seem by comparison rather less effective, even in the Callino Quartet’s excellent performances.” (Four stars).
The Irish Times, May 18th 2007.
“With a playing time of just one hour, this concentrated clutch of three string quartets and a suite of ‘elegiac pieces’ offers itself up as a clenched fist of a programme that the listener must attempt to prise open with each listen, one or more of its fingers always remaining clamped shut, as if clasping something valuable and vulnerable to itself. The white-knuckle intensity of the experience obliges you to keep returning to these emotionally charged, tautly coruscating and fiercely realised works in an effort to understand and then appreciate. And indeed, vice versa.
The quartets - Numbers 4 (Veer), 5 (…wander, darkling) and 6 (In fretta, in vento) - are the products of an intense 18-month period around the turn of the millenium when Wilson was forced to flee from a NATO bombing campaign in his adopted Belgrade to reluctant repatriation in Ireland. The Sixth is coralled between Wilson’s reflections on the terrorist atrocities of the 9/11 attacks and the death shortly afterwards of the composer’s grandmother. In the collision between public tribute and private grief, these works of outrage and protest vehemently strain against the implacable provocations of brute violence and, occasionally fruitfully, go steadfastly in search of spiritual solace.
Such an instance occurs in the dying moments of the Sixth, when Wilson movingly quotes the Bach chorale O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid! (’Oh sadness, o sorrow!”). It is the most bittersweet of moments, at once fragile and defiant and wholly typical of the compassion that informs every note that Wilson sets on a stave.
The Fifth Quartet burns with the darkest of flames, communicating with a peppery, Berg-like rush of repulsion and razor-sharp horror, its sharp, slicing, shivering string textures tumbling over each other in tumult and turmoil. Nearing the end of their first decade together, the Callino Quartet play with a controlled and incisive dexterity that emphasises clarity of expression and suggests the maturity of a considerably older ensemble.
Veer, Wilson’s Fourth Quartet, differs from its two companions in length - at under 10 minutes it is half as long as the Fifth and four minutes shorter than the Sixth - and structure, conceived as it is in two compact movements. To know that they draw their inspiration from Edvard Munch’s paintings The Scream and Melancholy tells you something about them, but not everything. Veer is more concerned with an unspecified quest than the obvious quarrels the Fifth and Sixth pursue and is somewhat more gnomic as a result.By comparison, and in stark relief - in both senses of the word - the most recent work, 2004’s wistful seven-part Lyric Suite (the title is a nod to RTE Lyric FM, who commissioned the work), communicates with meditative moderation and offers necessary balm after what has gone before.”
The JMI, July/August 2007.
Meridian Records CDE84546 (2007)
Gerard McChrystal, alto saxophone, Craig Ogden, guitar
Includes Tern/Icarus (2004)
“Ian Wilson's brittle miniatures Tern and Icarus (both from 2004) are 'two short songs without words [that follow] the rhythmic and emotional contours' of two poems by John Burnside. Where Tern takes quiet delight in quotidian detail, Icarus offers a sun-dappled portrait of over-reaching vanity.”
The JMI, vol. 7 no. 2, March/April 2007.
from the Book of Longing
Riverrun Records RVRCD65 (2004)
Hugh Tinney, piano, Catherine Leonard, violin
from the Book of Longing for violin and piano; BIG for piano; Drive for violin and piano; Verschwindend for piano; Spilliaert’s Beach for violin and piano; For Eileen, after rain for piano; Lim for piano; A Haunted Heart for piano
Rewarding fare from one of Ireland ’s leading young composers.
“Ten years span the eight works on this disc, which reveals Ian Wilson (40 this year) as a composer of integrity, resourcefulness and (crucially) genuine communicative gifts.
You can hear all of those qualities in the two earliest works here, the piano piece BIG (1991) and the following year’s Drive for violin and piano (originally for soprano saxophone). Even more striking are Lim (a beautifully proportioned 18-minute piano work adapted from the solo part of Wilson ’s 1998 concerto for piano and strings, Limena) and Verschwindend (a virtuoso test piece commissioned by the 2001 Dublin International Piano Competition). I was also particularly taken with from the Book of Longing for violin and piano. Written in 1996 for Catherine Leonard, it derives its inspiration from the Biblical account of Christ’s Temptation in the desert by Satan. Described by the composer as ‘part showpiece and part mini tone poem’, the music strikes a deliciously subtle balance between the spiritual and sensual.
These are exemplary performances from Hugh Tinney and Catherine Leonard, vividly recorded in the composer’s presence at the Concert Hall of Limerick University. Well worth hunting down – as, for that matter, are two comparably rewarding anthologies of Wilson ’s string quartets and piano trios on Black Box and Timbre respectively.”
Gramophone Magazine, November 2004.
“Familiar for his String Quartets and Proms commission Man O’War, Irish composer Ian Wilson has been a name to watch almost from the moment he finished his studies. Now pianist Hugh Tinney and violinist Catherine Leonard present a fascinating retrospective of Wilson ’s changing voice…The tension between cool clarity and an almost Ravelian sensuality links the works, played with admirable transparency by Leonard and Tinney. Excellent.” (Four stars)
The Independent, May 23rd 2004.
“In spite of the varied surface finishes, what stands out on this CD is the underlying romanticism and also the consistent sensitivity and polish of both performers.” (Four stars)
The Irish Times, August 20th 2004.
In blue sea or sky
Riverrun Records RVRCD59 (2003).
Cliona Doris performs In blue sea or sky (1999)
"...Ian Wilson's In blue sea or sky, an imaginative evocation commissioned and premiered by Cliona in 2000, and yet another impressive addition to the fast-growing output of this fine Belfast-born composer."
Gramophone Magazine, September 2003
Erasmus Music 269 (2002)
Amstel Saxophone Quartet
Includes … so softly (1992)
“… sets the mood for the whole CD. Hauntingly beautiful.”
Clarinet and Saxophone, v n 2002.
British Fantasies American Dreams
Guild Music GMCD 7230 (2001)
Nancy Ruffer, flute and Helen Crayford, piano
Includes Spilliaert’s Beach for alto flute and piano (1999)
“Inspired by Leon Spilliaert’s 1908 painting Moonlit Beach Wilson… explores that work’s almost abstract quality in a most involving way...An impressive study in black-and-yellow contrasts… highly effective…”
Music Web, December 2001.
towards the Far Country
Black Box Music BBM 1031 (2000)
Vanbrugh Quartet: Winter’s Edge - string quartet no. 1; The Capsizing Man and other stories - string quartet no. 2; towards the Far Country - string quartet no. 3
“I had not heard of the young Belfast-born composer Ian Wilson before, and was grateful to Richard Whitehouse [Gramophone, Feb. 2001] for drawing my attention to him: ‘a composer of imaginative resource and a sure formal sense’ indeed…he has the gift of making even the barest ideas interesting, and they often flower into impressively sustained lyrical lines. I was especially struck by the Third Quartet, which encompasses considerable variety of dramatic incident – it was inspired by seven strongly contrasted paintings by Paul Klee – but could readily be heard as an ingenious fusion of sonata and rondo. The ‘grinding chords’ that RW noted at the outset are particularly fertile, not so much opposing the lyrical ‘second subject’ but generating other sorts of lyricism, including the quite haunting tranquil close.”
Gramophone Magazine (Michael Oliver), June 2001.
“Well crafted, resourceful quartets given performances by the Vanbrugh Quartet to match, in fine recorded sound.
As the disc of his Second and Third Piano Trios (Timbre) indicated, Ian Wilson is a composer of imaginative resource and a sure formal sense, his music lacking little in personality.
The viola melody near the beginning of the compact First Quartet (a work inspired by the life of Saint Paul) denotes the oblique lyricism and deceptive forward motion typical of Wilson’s music as a whole. A halting, Stravinskian rhythmic motion provides necessary contrast, while the opening discord comes into dramatic focus at several points during this ruminative, even melancholic work.
Quartet No. 2 draws on work by the Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti for its five short movements, which are strongly contrasted in character. The emotional range expands to take account of this, taking in the Schnittke-like anguish of ‘The Capsizing Man’, the nocturnal unease of ‘The Forest’, the distantly Sibelian impetus of ‘The Chariot’, and, after the Feldman-like reticence of ‘Seated Woman’, a whimsical finale in ‘The Cat’.
Grinding chords launch the ambitious (28 minute) Third Quartet. Here the inspiration, seven paintings by Paul Klee, is integrated into the ongoing formal evolution, with several well-defined ideas developed in an eloquent discourse which periodically recalls the quartet writing of Robert Simpson. The ingenuity with which Wilson maintains the dramatic tension ensures that the tranquil close casts a powerful spell in context.
Perceptive performances by the Vanbrughs and a well-nigh perfect quartet balance makes this disc well worth the attention of open-minded quartets and listeners alike.”
Gramophone Magazine, February 2001.
“Though for so long the medium par excellence of abstract musical discourse, the string quartet functions no less effectively than other genres as the vehicle for responses to external stimuli. Twentieth-century painting and sculpture act in this way in three quartets of the Irish composer Ian Wilson - intentionally so, as part of a dedicated artistic programme. In his First Quartet (1992), which he considers his first complete work, he moved consciously from an ‘abstract plane to a place where I could begin to musically explore the world and my own place in it’. Paradoxically, however, though entitled Winter’s Edge with reference to ideas of redemption as exemplified in the life of St Paul, its lack of overtly religious of autobiographical sensibility is fully amended by a firm basis in dedicated musical argument.
And this is no less true of the First Quartet’s successors, inspired by Giacometti and Klee respectively. Whatever its visual origins, Wilson’s invention translates into satisfying musical structures, broadly mosaic, and incidentally recalling Feldman in the Second (1994) and Tippett in the Third, Towards the Far Country (1996). More importantly, however, there is also here and outline of the third persona, still developing, and clearly bearing promise for the future.”
BBC Music Magazine, February 2001.
“… definitely a genuine imagination at work here.”
International Record Review, January 2001.
Seven Last Words
Timbre DMHCD4 (1997)
Kammerspiel: The Seven Last Words - piano trio no. 2 (1995); Catalan Tales - piano trio no. 3 (1996); Six Days at Jericho - for cello and piano (1995)
“I was most impressed by ‘The Seven Last Words’ (1995) which, like James MacMillan’s recent work of the same title, draws the listener into a personal sound-world of great conviction. Wilson’s music is often very graphic, the desiccation of ‘I thirst’ is palpable, the strident dissonant chords scourging. The music rises to a dense harmonic climax above which cello and violin sing out passionately. Thereafter the textures become sparser and the violin and cello often play a third apart. Gradually the music is transmuted, becoming more and more ethereal.
Besides this powerful experience…the more fantastic nature of ‘Catalan Tales’, inspired by the paintings of Miro, brought welcome relief. The ‘Jericho’ music is, again, very dark and brooding, rich with ominous intensity.
In Kammerspiel, Ian Wilson has been fortunate to have performers of the very highest standard who have projected his music with exemplary skill and commitment”.
TEMPO Magazine, April 1998.
Ceathrar: Contemporary String Quartets from Ireland
Chandos CHAN 9295 (1994)
Vanbrugh Quartet. Includes Winter’s Edge - string quartet no. 1 (1992)
“… [a] dramatic and highly effective piece.” CD Review, October 1994.
“… [an] impeccably crafted and imaginative piece.” BBC Music Magazine, September 1994.Download Reviews