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This piece shares some of the characteristics of an earlier chamber piece of mine called Leaves and Navels, in that it begins with a feeling of mind wandering, with ideas coming into focus only to be replaced by other ideas, not unlike a Joycean stream-of-consciousness. As the piece progresses the strongest ideas are returned to, sometimes being developed, sometimes not. The opening third of the piece is set mainly in the top half of the piano, while the middle part becomes darker and more profound in tone and timbre, its chant-like melody serving the same purpose as a Dies irae. The final part is more reflective, more concerned with what has gone before.
The string orchestra is always supportive of the soloist in this work, and I have them muted throughout, using metal practice mutes in order to keep the atmosphere as intimate as possible, and also to exploit the unusual timbre of these devices.
The work was commissioned by the Irish Chamber Orchestra for Hugh Tinney and that ensemble.
“The concerto inhabits an unusually subdued world, less a contest of wills between soloist and orchestra than a meditative, joint exploration of half-lit colours and delicate sonorities. The composer launches with a weave of octave-punctuated piano lines, the strings creeping in stealthily to borrow flickers of material from the piano part and sounding faint and remote through the use of metal mutes; it’s a captivating effect. As with any steam of consciousness, there is a risk that the termination will be jarring…perhaps that’s how the composer wants it to be in what is the most impressive work I’ve heard from him.”
(The Irish Times, 6 March 1999. Hugh Tinney, piano/Irish Chamber Orchestra)