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Seóirse BODLEY (b.1933)
Symphony No 4

1. Andante - Moderato
2. Andante
3. Allegro
4. Alla Marcia - Allegro

Symphony No 5 "The Limerick Symphony"
5. Grave - Allegro
6. Andantino
7. Allegro
8. Andante
9. Maestoso - Allegro

National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland/Colman Pearce
Rec. 1-2 June 1999 in The National Concert Hall, Dublin
MARCO POLO 8.225157 [72:38]
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Irish symphonic music has always dwelt to a greater or lesser extent in the shadow of the English symphonic school. So many of the prominent Irish composers of the last century or more were trained in England and naturally absorbed a certain amount of the musical language of the likes of Stanford (himself Irish), Vaughan Williams, Tippett and Maxwell-Davies. Although Seóirse Bodley was trained in Dublin, and later in Stuttgart, it is impossible to deny the English influence on his symphonic writing. In the 4th and 5th symphonies this is allied to some fairly heavy influence of that other great symphonist of the early 20th century, Sibelius, and a feel for the darker colours of orchestration is apparent throughout these two works.

Both of these symphonies date from 1991 but the language of the writing is of a more mid-century accent. Bodley has made a point of keeping his symphonic writing accessible, notwithstanding some years studying avant-garde music in his earlier days. These works are cast very much in the mold of late romantic mainstream symphonic composition, although in these two works Bodley was making his first large scale references to classical forms for some years. The 4th Symphony (commissioned by the Orcestra Sinfonica dell'Emilia Romagna "Arturo Toscanini" and premiered in the Teatro Farnese in Parma) is the more immediately appealing of the two. Of 27 minutes duration it makes a jaunty impact with bright orchestration and colourful harmony. Although the composer, in the informative accompanying essay, makes reference to the use of elements of Irish music, this is only obviously apparent in a typically Irish sounding flute solo in the final movement.

The 5th Symphony (written for the commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Siege of Limerick) is on a rather larger scale, being cast in five movements and lasting for 45 minutes. The faster movements come off better than the two slow movements, both of which tend towards a lack of architectural clarity. These slow movements tend to be unable to build organically to a successful climax and, although Bodley makes reference to the idea of a "continuously evolving … melodic line" this does tend to obscure any sense of the architectural.

The performance of both symphonies is undeniably impressive. The National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland has placed great importance over a number of years on fostering and promoting the work of Irish composers and they often sound better in this type of repertoire than in more mainstream works. Colman Pearce also has placed significant emphasis on modern Irish music and the orchestra responds convincingly to his direction. The woodwind solos (especially flute and oboe) are excellently played, although the recording brings them rather too far forward in relation to the occasional solo violin passages. Otherwise, the recorded sound is well balanced and clear, particularly benefiting the lower strings.

This recording is one of a large number featuring the NSOI in Irish symphonic repertoire, and it is a repertoire that is well worth exploring. The listener to these symphonies must not, however, expect to hear anything startlingly new. Both works are anchored firmly in the historical context of Symphonic writing, but are none the less interesting for it.

Peter Wells

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