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Review of Pipeworks @ the NCH

The Irish Times–Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ó hAodáin, RTÉ NSO/Minczuk
NCH, Dublin
Wagner– Siegfried’s Rhine Journey Strauss–Horn Concerto No 1Bruckner–Symphony No 7

Seldom is the work of Richard Strauss the lightest music of an evening. But here, his youthful Horn Concerto No 1 was pitted against some formidable heavyweights of Germanic Romanticism. By way of a taster for the symphony programme, a pre-concert organ recital (presented by Pipeworks festival) included Max Reger’s thundering Second Sonata of 1901. Organist and Reger aficionado David Adams despatched its superabundance of notes with a mixture of athletic discipline and Gothic melodrama.

Paying a return visit to the NCH was Brazilian guest conductor Roberto Minczuk, whose recent measures to overhaul the Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira have caused considerable controversy. Still, there wasn’t a breath of disharmony to be detected in his dealings with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra.

On the contrary, a highly polished account of Siegfried’s Rhine Journey showed Minczuk’s real feeling for the lustrous textures of Wagner. There was energetic precision, too, in the more modest scoring of the Strauss concerto, where soloist Cormac Ó hAodáin – despite a few fluffs of the kind that are an occupational hazard for horn players – valiantly kept pace and poise.

Neither conductor nor orchestra could be held entirely responsible for the deflated conclusion to Bruckner’s Symphony No 7. Rather than being intent on rescuing the finale from its own fragmented argumentation, Minczuk appeared resigned to it.

His approach was altogether more persuasive in the lengthy opening movements, where assured paragraphing and finely differentiated tempos meant that the vast Adagio in particular seemed not a minute too long.



The Irish Times - Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Pipeworks Festival


Crosshaven, Dundalk, Dublin

This festival has never been short of artistic aspiration and ambition. This year there were up to four events on each of its nine days. However, the main innovation was that six days took place well away from the Dublin area. Providing accommodation, and ferrying competitors and adjudicators from one end of the State to the other must have challenged the Dublin and regional committees, all of which consisted entirely of volunteers. Nevertheless, everything seemed to work smoothly.

Three days were spent at Holy Trinity Church in Crosshaven, which features a new organ built by Henk van Eeken in the style of early 17th-century Dutch instruments. Here, competitors in the quarter-finals
of the international organ competition were required to play a work of their choice by Sweelinck. It was also the venue for the opening concert, given by the National Chamber Choir conducted by Paul Hillier, with David Adams at the organ.

The next three days were spent in Dundalk, where the 1900 organ of St Patrick's Cathedral is a magnificent example of the late work of Henry Willis. Here, quarter-finalists were required to play a piece by Liszt, and there was a concert of Spanish Renaissance music by the award-winning English choir Stile Antico.

The last three days were in Dublin, where I heard David Higgs, the chair of the competition jury,
present an expertly played, impeccably designed programme in Christ Church Cathedral, and Joseph Ripka, the winner of the last competition, in 2008, play a rewarding, mainly French programme in St Teresa's Church, Clarendon Street.

Education lies at the festival's heart, via an impressive variety of recitals and master-classes from members of the competition jury. As the indefatigable artistic director, Mark Duly, put it in the programme, "Many travel the world and commit themselves to penury to experience what is here available freely in Ireland this summer!" The 14 competitors listed for the competition's quarter-finals came from 10 countries, and included Ireland's Carol O'Connor. They were whittled down to three for the finals on Saturday night in Christ Church. All three were well up to the standard one would hope for; but to this pair of ears the jury's choices were right. First prize went to the Korean organist Joon-ho
Park for magisterial technical control and clear musical thinking in a programme of Bach and Liszt. Second prize went to David Baskeyfield from the UK, and third to Stefan Donner from Austria.

With recitals in Dublin venues, plus Dún Laoghaire and Tullamore, with choral Eucharist in Crosshaven, the three Dublin cathedral choirs combining for Solemn Vespers at the Pro- Cathedral, and academic events associated with the Society for Musicology in Ireland's annual conference, this was no ghetto for organ-nerds. Rather, it showed breadth of artistic imagination and diversity of music-making, by revealing the organ in a rich array of historical and functional contexts.