REVIEWS: metier msv 28560   Schoenberg & Bodley - Vocal Works

All those hours spent listening to experimental, modern classical music have paid off: we dipped our toes into the waters of Arnold Schoenberg and came up smiling, to mix metaphors. A couple of reviews said it was not for the faint-hearted; it's true that it's not for someone expecting the Cliff Adams Singers singing something simple but then neither is it difficult enough to leave you running down the road covering your ears.

Schoenberg was an innovator in atonal music; music that lacks a tonal centre. For example, music piece in which the tonic chord is C major is said to be “in the key of C”. Nice tunes you can hum along to may start and end with the tonic note. This doesn't, but it does create an atmosphere, stimulates your brain and is surprisingly enjoyable.

The opening piece is Das Buch der Hängnden
(“the book of the hanging gardens”), 15 settings of poetry by Stefan George. It's true it has a few hairy moments, not quite a fight breaking out between a choir of cats, but getting there. But Aylish Kerrigan (mezzo soprano) and Dearbhla Collins on the piano bring out the warmth in the music; it could be jarring but never is. “Under the shelter of dense foliage” is the opening line, and dense foliage describes the music too, though it has plenty of more tranquil moments.

Pairing the Schoenberg with Seóirse Bodley was a good plan, and the opening seconds of the Bodley piece A Girl , a cycle of 22 songs, is immediately more soothing.

The link between the two pieces is loss, of sorts: Das Buch der Hängnden Gärten follows the failed love affair of two youths in a garden, ending with the woman's departure and the disintegration of the garden, A Girl tells of a pregnant girl unable to cope with the humiliation she suffers in a conservative society. The garden dies in one, the girl in the other. Bodley's piece is not all plain sailing, and has its Schoenberg moments and can be just as intense.
Jeremy Condliffe