Newry Chamber Music survive a funding scare to host the prize-winning Welsh singer
A couple of months ago, the entire future of Newry Chamber Music hung precariously in the balance. The problem, predictably, was money. Or, more accurately, a lack thereof.
The recession was biting, business sponsorship had dried up to a trickle, and NCM was within hours of having to pull the plug on its 2013 autumn schedule.
Last-minute donations from loyal supporters to an online Fund:it campaign saved the day, however (for the time being, at least), and so it's business as usual in the beautiful setting of the Church of Christ the Redeemer, Bessbrook, as soprano Ailish Tynan takes the platform for the first concert of the new NCM season.
Since winning the Recital Prize at the 2003 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition, Tynan has forged an international career with appearances at the Royal Opera House, English National Opera, and La Scala, Milan to her credit.
For all Tynan's cosmopolitan experience, however, there is nothing of the prima donna about the Mullingar-born singer. Her stage manner is delightfully informal, and she introduces the opening set of six Brahms songs with an infectiously enthusiastic summary of their contents.
Tynan's fresh, nimble responses belie the strangely persistent notion that Brahms is essentially a stodgy, humourless composer. She relishes the opportunities for vocal acting in 'Vergebliches Ständchen' ('Futile Serenade'), and deftly aspirates the word 'rauscht' ('rustles') in 'O kühler Wald', evocatively suggesting the atmosphere of the dark, echoing forest in which a distant lover wanders.
The sheer power of Tynan's voice is unleashed as 'hot desires' fulminate within the heart of the singer-narrator in 'Unbewegte laue Luft' ('Motionless, tepid air'). Nature looks on silently, an inscrutable spectator of human passion.
Throughout this opening group, the pianism of accompanist David Quigley is of high quality. Quigley catches to perfection the gently thrumming melancholy of 'Es träumte mir, ich sei dir teuer' ('I dreamed I was dear to you'), and constantly illuminates Brahms's wonderfully allusive piano writing without ever stealing the spotlight from the soloist.
Schubert's so-called 'Ellen Songs', setting lyrics from Sir Walter Scott's poem 'The Lady of the Lake', take us to the interval. Quigley's neat pointing of the military motifs in the opening 'Raste Krieger!' ('Soldier Rest!') again catch the attention, and Tynan's lulling invocation to the embattled combatant to 'sleep the sleep that knows not breaking' is movingly delivered.
Part two is lighter in tone, and strongly Irish in focus. Quigley plays four of Belfast composer Philip Hammond's Miniatures and Modulations, a collection of solo piano pieces in which traditional Irish melodies are re-cast in contemporary classical idioms. He teases out the strange harmonic sideslips of Hammond's take on 'Kitty Tyrrel', and dispatches the dashing syncopations of the exuberant 'Beardless Boy' with brio.
Tynan weighs in with a clutch of Moeran's Songs from County Kerry, including a poignant, heart-tugging version of 'The Lost Lover'. She closes with a couple of Gilbert and Sullivan numbers, rattling the rafters with her rousing, colourful account of 'A Simple Sailor' from HMS Pinafore, her final top note resonating like a gust of gale-wind through a cutter's rigging.
The concert's not quite over. Tynan returns with Benjamin Britten's arrangement of 'The Last Rose of Summer' as an encore. The burbling, murky undertow of Britten's unsettling accompaniment is still resonating in the ear as we exit the Church of Christ the Redeemer into a crisp, brightly moonlit evening.
It's sobering to think that this excellent NCM recital almost never happened. The Quigley siblings, Joanne and David, are battling heroically to ensure that chamber music events of genuine quality keep coming to the Newry area, and deserve great credit for it.
The Vanbrugh Quartet are next to visit, on Thursday, November 21 in the Newry Conference and Banqueting Centre. It should be another outstanding evening. Visit the Newry Chamber Music website for more information.