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Culture Watch: Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy

May 18, 2011 |  9:45 am

Dennehy Donnacha Dennehy: Grá agus Bás

(Nonesuch)

No, I can’t pronounce this either. But the Irish sure sounds good in song on the first major release of the music by the Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy, who was born in 1970. “Grá agus Bás" (Love and Death) is a rapturous post-Minimalist assault on a traditional Irish song from the old tradition known as sean-nós. It is sung here by a leading exponent of sean-nós, Iarla Ó Lionáird, and there is much to remind us in this magnetically repetitive score that Terry Riley’s roots are in the old country.

The other work on the CD, which features the Crash Ensemble conducted by Alan Pierson, is a song cycle Dennehy wrote for soprano Dawn Upshaw on texts by Yates. They include more of love and death, with plenty of angst thrown in. The accompaniments ripple appealingly, with a slight nod to John Adams, while Upshaw gets at the heart of Yates’ sad, haunted beauty.

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-- Mark Swed

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