Aruan Ortiz Trio

Hidden Voices


There is a deliberateness to what Aruan Ortiz is attempting to achieve with the ten tracks on Hidden Voices, which was recorded in two sessions with just bassist Eric Revis and drummer Gerald Cleaver, which is never less than intriguing, in spite of its exactness.

Ortiz is a compelling musician and composer, because he is always opening doors, always trying something new, and what some might regard as obfuscatory, or inaccessible, turns out to be anything but if you do your homework, and you can see why Ortiz so admires Ornette Coleman and Thelonious Monk, two of whose compositions, feature here.

Ortiz genuinely pushes boundaries: he views this collection as a circle with no beginning and no end, a sonic version of an equilateral triangle, the image of which seems more accommodating than the reality: for example, Uno, dos y tres, que paso mas chevre, is smooth and bound with no breaks between the notes.

So the concept of motion, though rooted in architectural patterns, but not exclusively, surfaces throughout, and your senses are telling you that there is no vivid tonal centre, no terra firma of musical context to latch onto. But you’d be wrong.

Fractal Sketches is onomatopoeic: Ortiz, after a period studying fractal designs in rural Africa, uses geometry to replicate recurring patterns: you might not see the pattern of a snowflake, but you know it has to be there.

For Ortiz the principal shape is based on a triad, on two intervals, and moves in circular motion, becoming bigger with progression.

And so with Arabesques of a Geometrical Rose (Spring) and Arabesques of a Geometrical Rose (Summer) there is melody, without any tonal heart, but pursuing a logical system

In Joyful Noises the three musicians have the floor in between the notes, where the multi-levelled structure is in essence imaginary, and there is a dawning that, whether atonal or fractal or arabesque, music’s amorphous meanderings defy our best of intentions to define.

Harlan Coben

The prolific Harlan Coben sells by the proverbial bucket load: with The Stranger, we are in territory he has revisited so often, the edifice of American bourgeois civility and the perfect families which support it.

With Coben there is always something rotten at the heart of this Norman Rockwell suburbia, where the middle aged, wrapped in cotton wool, have nothing more important to worry about than whether little Frankie is making the sixth grade lacrosse team.

Until, that is, a stranger comes a knocking, and a little ol’ hospitality is the last thing playing on his mind.

Coben’s forensic attention to domestic detail – the invasion of social media into the home – is as relentless as verdigris in The Stranger, which pivots on the chance encounter between socially smug Adam Price, a father of two young boys, and a stranger.

Price, having a beer with managers and bankers in the local American Legion Hall, is warned by the stranger that his wife has been telling him porkies about her last pregnancy.

Rather than ask his wife, Corinne, about the alleged deceit, Price waters the seed of doubt planted by the stranger.

He plays detective on her bank account, and when a bill from Novelty Funsy paints her in a less than reverential light, a Pandora’s Box is well and truly opened.

As Coben ruthless disentangles the Prices’ marriage,  the ensuing discordance sparks simultaneous avalanches in the lives of other victims of the mysterious stranger, all of whom have one thing in common: secrets best kept buried.

A young woman who prostitutes herself to pay college fees; a fiancée coping with the payback of sex tapes released on the Internet and a mother who invests in a fake pregnancy test.

The story switches from first to fifth gear in a nano second after Price confronts his wife with his investigative booty. She, overnight, disappears, raising the suspicions of neighbours who consider themselves like glue in the community.

Armed only with a credit car invoice, a retired cop and a techno savvy son who inserted a locator app in his mum’s phone – as you do – before she hightailed out of town, Price begins a frustrating search for his missing spouse.

As the hurdles mount up – stolen money, unexplained phone calls, more strangers in the night – Price sniffs a greater and complex conspiracy.

There are, admittedly, implausible resolutions in The Stranger, but if you are a sucker for the Coben diet of the corny, cliché and unoriginal, as everybody of note seems to be in Cedarfield, ‘loaded with up with wealthy hedge fund managers…and other financial masters of the universe types,’ you will surf the improbable plot turns with patience and grace.

Coben mixes the saccharine with the toxic. In Cedarfield, men are drawn to two types of women: those who offer lust filled nights with legs in the air, or moonlight walks and canopies.

The wholesome Price is at home with the latter, despite the occasional temptation at work, but the creature comforts of a strong marriage are no bar to the corrosive forces of envy and betrayal in small town Americana, where scrutiny is both a hobby and a blood sport.

Coben the writer eschews the predilection for excessive violence so endemic among his Scandinavian brethren like Jo Nesbo: this is a bodice-ripper free zone. Coben’s strength is a plot with more twists than Chubby Decker, and a broader message that on line privacy in the home and paranoia are a volatile mix.

Ana Moura

As the breeze drifts with intent overland from the sea, so too the lamentations and soul searching of Ana Moura, the Portuguese fado singer whose brand of melancholy, with a voice as sable and moonless as the chiaroscuro from which the words are born, reaches every corner of the globe.

Moura Encantada by Manuel de Freitas cements the expectation of Moura -the youngest fadista to be nominated for a Dutch edison Award – as a chanteuse of exceptional range, a balladeer of depth and feeling, wringing the words of every ounce of angst and introspection.

Moura changes tact suddenly with Fado Dancado, proof that she can swing with the best of them,and with a more muscular input from producer Larry Klein, with whom she worked on recent albums, including the platinum selling Desfado.

Moura’s strength starts with the richness of the voice and the way she bends it effortlessly around Angeloe Freire’ Portuguese guitar, but she  has an analogous range which is malleable with texture and pace.

Lilac Wine, for example, is the only song of 14 impeccably crafted numbers performed in English, but in Moura’s safe hands there is not a consonant out of place, although one senses that the influence of fado’s distinctive heritage has a cosmetic appearance here.

Her backing band, including some famous names in Portuguese music  – Carlos Te, Samuel uria, jorge Cruz, Edu Mundo and Sara Taveres – are as cohesive as superglue, and their reciprocation with Moura culminates in a perfect platform for the terse verses:  Agore E Que E and the sublime Cantiga De Abrigo.

Though regarded as a form of singing which lends itself to metamorphosis, the polished fado on Moura is an age away from what I have heard in cafes in the tight mesh of streets in the Bairro Alto in Lisbon.

But Ana Moura is first and foremost an interpreter, with a voice which traipses freely and unhesitatingly through tradition, and her adherence to the manner and form of fado, which is not in the least rigid or constrained, is more in the sentiment of the lyrics, laced throughout with melancholia and longing.

On the page the songs (O Meu Amor Foi Para O Brasil and Tens Os Olhos De Deus) can read like poems, but Moura’s gift is to give them wings, and in doing so she imbues the theatricality and the gravitas of Jacques Brel. Sublime, from beginning to end.

Rossini at Wexford

We had long hoped that occasions such as Saturday’s premiere of Wide Open Opera’s The Barber of Seville, rapturously received by a capacity audience, would grace the National Opera House on occasions outside the Wexford Festival Opera season.

This production is a personal triumph for conductor Fergus Sheil, because it set out to offer a new and fresh perspective on one of the most popular operas ever written, an impossible task, one would have thought.

Though formed in 2012, Saturday was Wide Open Opera’s debut at the National Opera House, but not for Sheil, whom we have seen work his wonder on many occasions.

As Artistic Director of Wide Open Opera, in his dreams he must have anticipated with relish the wide open spaces offered by the theatre to his creative team of Michael Barker-Craven, Jamie Vartan and Sinead Wallace.

The Barber of Seville is of course a carousel, a 90 mph romp from the pen of a master who could churn out half a dozen operas in two years.

When you think of early Rossini you think breathless pace, convoluted plots, a mish mash of scenes, a tendency to tantalise his impatient and often rowdy audiences with a blend of operas buffa and seria.

The Barber of Seville, an opera in two acts, is famously gifted with a crazy mid-opera finale plotted, which I use loosely, to be resolved, breathlessly, after the interval.

So for a new look to succeed the stage has to be worked to achieve the frenetic conclusion to Act One when, intentionally, both audience and cast are in agreement that nobody has much idea of what is going on: the composer’s infectious music is one reason why the overture was the sound track of Bugs Bunny cartoons in the 1950s.

The stage is kept busy, perhaps too much, because a revolving building should always be an addition to the plot, not a distraction, but The Barber of Seville is primarily a feast for the ears, stuffed with coloratura arias and ensembles.

Rossini is generous in his offerings to the menage a trois: Figaro’s Largo al factotum; Almaviva’s gorgeous serenade to Rosina, Ecco ridente in cielo and Rosina’s Una voce poca fa.

Thus, a conductor requires singers of vocal dexterity and, essentially, vocal agility, because Rossini does not take prisoners: Largo al factotum, because it is sung so early, needs to hit the mark, and Gavin Ring does.

Circumnavigating the irrepressible Figaro are Tara Erraught’s Rosina (her 25th time in the role but in her first complete opera performance in Ireland), Tyler Nelson as Almaviva and, in a world of his own, the craftily written, Bartolo, worn as if bespoken by Graeme Danby.

Rossini’s operas can fundamentally resemble a stew, a little bit of everything at his disposal thrown in, the magic of which is uncorked in the memorable overtures, and in place of profundity he offers frivolity,  a huge challenge to the conductor and director to bring cohesion to the ensemble, from the stage to the pit, for Rossini makes more use of the orchestra than was customary of Italian operas of the time.

With his team of comic actors and well drilled supporting cast in place, Fergus Sheil is always prepared to let his musicians off the leash, but only insofar as they are in tandem with the spontaneous engagement of the high jinks on stage, but his discipline is there when the expressive tenderness of an aria demands it. Sheil is at the peak of his form.

Arthur Bliss


Morning Heroes straddles the fence between the emotional heft of a grand requiem and the tidal power of a flowing panegyric, and yet, even though the music alone reflects the composer’s very real personal tragedy in the aftermath of war, Bliss must not have thought it enough, and plunders from, and what is considerably rare for an Edwardian English composer, a literary treasure chest that is both archaic and modern.

You don’t need to know the backdrop to Morning Heroes, F 32, a Symphony for Orator, Chorus and Orchestra, and I didn’t, to immediately connect with the tone of Bliss, although I do recommend hovering over each word of Andrew Burn’s solid introduction, because he puts the poetry diligently selected by Bliss into context. And Bliss has chosen wisely.

Bliss was haunted by his experiences in the trenches in the Great War, and Burn suggests that the whole artistic expression of what he and his brothers in arms went through required words as well as music. The poetry of Whitman, Li Tai Po, Homer, Owen and Robert Nichols, the less anthologised of the bunch, organise the oratorio like a short story: a beginning (the initial enthusiasm for joining up after war is declared, Whitman’s ‘how you threw off the costumes of peace with indifferent hand’,) a middle (Owen’s contrast of the long famous glories of war and its immemorial shames) and an end (reflection, redemption, regret in Nichols’ Dawn on the Somme).

The poems, as declaimed by the actor Samuel West, and the accompaniment by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus (conducted by Sir Andrew Davis) – either sparse (timpani for Owen) or evenly spread – are suffused by the futility of war and the eternal numbness of loss: Bliss’s brother Kennard was killed near Thiepval in September 1916, a fortnight coincidentally after the death of my great uncle, Edward Greer, who also fell in France serving the colours of the 19th London Regiment.

The tapestry of music and words is knitted by emotions germane to war, for Bliss was haunted by his experiences and the death of his brother; he must have had a curious and bold mind to conjoin the words of Whitman and Owen, writers impossible to abridge in the imagination. But Bliss sought heavily accented words for declamation, whether with the pregnant rhyming of Owen or the non-rhyming but reportage sodden sentences of Whitman. Owen is a mist, and Whitman a river.

Bliss must have been an early champion of Owen –Yeats wasn’t – but the achievement of Morning Heroes is the composer’s gradation of war by a series of movements, a circle from valour to horror, a tug of war between the brave instruction of war to the writhen waste of millions dead. Morning Heroes is Bliss’s Anthem for Doomed Youth.