John Kinsella: Symphonies

John Kinsella (b. 1932) is the most important Irish symphonist since Stanford, with no fewer than ten to his credit. This CD couples Kinsella's Fifth Symphony, written in 1992, an impassioned setting of humanist poetry by three Irish poets killed in the 1916 Uprising, with his most recent, No. 10, composed in 2010 for an orchestra of Mozartean dimensions, its clear textures animated by driving power and energy.

Gerard O’Connor, baritone
Bill Golding, speaker
RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, orchestra
Colman Pearce, conductor
Irish Chamber Orchestra, chamber orchestra
Gábor Takács-Nagy, conductor

(5 customer reviews)

5 reviews for John Kinsella: Symphonies

  1. :

    “… The Symphony No. 5 is a big work for a large orchestra, baritone and speaker. It’s subtitled ‘The 1916 Poets’ and the three poets in question are Thomas McDonagh, Joseph Plunkett and Patrick Pearse each of whom was killed by the British in 1916 during the ‘uprising’. Before you start to think that this is a political symphony with a ‘message’ then let me reassure you that it is no such thing. … The Symphony No. 10 was not written to a commission and the composer clearly enjoyed working at it. … Kinsella creates passages of great power and energy in both the outer movements, the third having touches of Sibelius. The middle one de Barra describes as ‘enigmatic’. I would also add the words mysterious, evocative and with a sense of ‘Celtic’, not twilight, but morning freshness which clouds over, brightens and darkens again. A wonderful sound-world. … The orchestral work is outstanding especially in the demanding string writing and Colman Pearce shows an in-depth understanding of the demands of these scores.” MusicWeb International

  2. :

    “…[Symphony No.5, The 1916 Poets (1992):] This enormously rewarding symphony is a very striking, emotionally intense work to which Gerard O’Connor, Bill Golding together with Colman Pearce and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra bring an outstanding performance. …[Symphony No.10 (2010):] This is a terrific symphony, full of energy, fine orchestration and a great forward momentum, finely played by Gábor Takács-Nagy and the Irish Chamber Orchestra. The recordings could not be better. There are excellent notes from Séamas da Barra, complete with musical examples, a commentary on his symphonies by the composer as well as full English texts.” The Classical Reviewer

  3. :

    “… The Fifth Symphony, completed in 1992, is based on the work of three pivotal poets who were part of the Irish Volunteers and heavily involved in the fight for Irish independence in the years just before World War I. … The work is unusual in that it uses both a baritone and a narrator, and although all three poets were revolutionaries the poems used for this symphony have texts concerning “love, loss and the transience of life,” and are “shot through with a deep sense of religious mysticism.” … What struck me forcibly was Kinsella’s incredible gift for matching the mood of the text with his music, staying innovative and original at the same time. One is constantly on the edge of one’s seat listening to this music, which often reduces the orchestra to just a few instruments as if it were a chamber ensemble. The overriding impression one takes away from this score is that Kinsella is a colorist, a composer for whom sound and texture are as meaningful as the actual progression of the notes. … Kinsella wrote the 10th Symphony, completed in 2010, for his own pleasure. … Kinsella uses an F♯-Minor triad that is “spelled differently” and used to continually transform this theme in the development section. I also heard, in the development, some really ingenious variants on the basic rhythm, which keeps the listener on his or her toes and pulls one inward to listen more closely. … Using what is pretty much a chamber orchestra, he shows how many interesting sonorities can be created with this type of ensemble without repeating oneself or becoming trite. … This disc was my introduction to Kinsella’s work, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in modern symphonic music of an extraordinarily high quality. The art of the modern symphony surely lives in Ireland.” Fanfare

  4. :

    “…The Fifth is an ambitious work. …The work offers some very moving moments. The opening section, a setting of Plunkett’s “The Stars Sang in God’s Garden,” is very effectively written for the speaker and orchestra, the rhythm of the music matching the rhythm of the poetry. …The 10th Symphony, …while in no way a copy of Shostakovich, is likely to appeal to anyone who responds to the music of Shostakovich, or, perhaps, Tubin. It is clearly music of the 20th century, but written in a way that we now call “audience friendly.” It is a dramatic and powerful piece. …The performance is very strong, and the recorded sound on both pieces is fine. Excellent program notes fill out the package.” Fanfare

  5. :

    The most recent symphonic release pairs the Fifth and the Tenth on
    Toccata Classics. Symphony No. 5: The 1916 Poets, written in 1992, ispoems
    by three Irish poets, Joseph Mary Plunkett, Thomas MacDonagh,
    and Patrick (Pádraig) Pearse, all ofwhom were involved in Irish revolutionary
    politics. They were executed for their part in the 1916 Easter
    Uprising. This work, however, is not political. It goes much deeper.
    I am congenitally averse to symphonic music with narration (for instance,
    as much as I like Aaron Copland’s music, I refuse to listen to
    his Lincoln Portrait again), so I approached this work with some trepidation.
    However, the brilliance of its orchestration and the dramatic
    lyricism of its themes captured my attention and then, with repeated
    acquaintance, my affection.
    The poetic texts begin with a striking image from Plunkett of ‘‘the
    Reaper, the dead Christ upon his cross of wood’’. The Reaper is the
    reaped, a profoundly ironic mystery (‘‘one must die that many live’’ )
    to which the work will return at the very end. The next poems are lifeaffirming—
    a father’s wishes for his infant son (a kind ofcounterpart to
    William Butler Yates’ poem ‘‘A Prayer forMy Daughter’’ ), though curiously
    the propulsive music is more apprehensive, even ominous, than
    celebratory in character, and a paean to a spring flower, the crocus. It
    soon becomes clear that these affirmations are there only to accentuate
    the contrast with the unmitigated harshness of the mordant reflections
    on the transience of beauty and the brutality of death in the following
    poems, which are introduced by a close to three-minute orchestral tone
    poem. These bitter reflections are then subsumed, ifnot relieved, at the
    very end by the mortality ofChrist himself. The world is shot through
    with the devastation ofdeath which achieves its supreme expression in
    the dead Christ. The last poem, also by Plunkett, says, ‘‘His crown of
    thorns is twined with every thorn,His cross is every tree’’, upon which
    the climax of the last movement, indeed of the whole work, is reached,
    followed by a nearly three-minute orchestral dénouement. The framing
    perspective of the work looks unflinchingly on the Cross (not the
    Resurrection) as the source of hope. Death is universal, but Christ’s
    death portends more because his cross participates in all death, thereby
    redeeming the loss. Together, poems and music seem to be a not-so sublimated
    cri de coeur: ‘‘I am on cross’’, to which the answer comes,
    ‘‘Look, so is He.’’ This profound mystery is what this very strikingmusic
    and poetry touch upon. As dramatic as it is, I think the experience of
    its drama is intended to incite reflection upon these deepest mysteries.
    I will be returning to it for that reason.

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