sat 20/07/2024

Abel Selaocoe / Dermot Dunne & Martin Tourish, Dublin International Chamber Music Festival - genius transfigures genius | reviews, news & interviews

Abel Selaocoe / Dermot Dunne & Martin Tourish, Dublin International Chamber Music Festival - genius transfigures genius

Abel Selaocoe / Dermot Dunne & Martin Tourish, Dublin International Chamber Music Festival - genius transfigures genius

Cellist-plus spellbinds, while Bach's Goldberg Variations soar on two accordions

Abel Selaocoe: holding the Dublin audience in the palms of his handsAll images by Conleth Stanley

No-one in the musical world could possibly surpass the communicative skills of Abel Selaocoe – pushing the boundaries of cello and vocal technique in a myriad of voices, all cohering in works of staggering breadth, getting the audience to sing at the deepest of levels.

Amazingly, though, the next day’s act in the Dublin International Chamber Music Festival actually matched him: accordionists Dermot Dunne and Martin Tourish (pictured below - Tourish left, Dunne right) in the city’s first neoclassical building, the jewel that is the Casino in Merino, playing every note of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in the most life-enhancing performance of this greatest of masterpieces I’ve ever heard (and that’s saying something). If these were the only two concerts you heard in a year, you would be perfectly nourished for the rest of it.Martin Tourish and Dermot DunneSelaocoe knows Bach is the bedrock, too, but in his deeply serious Dublin recital to a packed house in The Depot on the north side of the Liffey, very different from the extrovert uplift of much of his work with various ensembles I've previously encountered, he led us in to the Third Cello Suite so subtly that we hardly realised we'd arrived there. Logically, "crossover" - awkward word - shouldn't work, but the integrity and creativity are such that everything Selaocoe touches with cello or voice turns to gold. He has as many colours in his human voice as he extracts from his instrument; the percussive pizzicati are offset against exquisite high-register lyricism (Dublin audiences would have heard more of that had he been able to fulfil an engagement playing Tavener's The Protecting Veil earlier in the season, but a family crisis intervened).

Boundaries are pushed, new languages evolved.. A similar magic to the Bach was woven around Marin Marais' Les Voix Humaines, again worked into a different context from the one I'd encountered before. Deft sampling allowed Selaocoe to sing with himself in three- or four-part harmony, essential for the South African hymnal tradition he admitted owed its origins to just a bit of colonial input, or to improvise above the recorded cello.

Abel Selaocoe in DublinWe also played our part, first in the one-note hum of the universe, then in absorbing a pattern of notes for free fantasia. Friends I'd insisted come and witness this phenomenon had been doubtful about the singalong, but this genius can do anything with an audience. He said he felt the response was especially profound, and the last number we shared could have gone on for ever.

As for the musical numbers, they certainly weren't all as stated in the programme, but the improvisatiom  where paper clips transformed the cello into an unearthly tintinnabulator and throat singing took us even further to the edge of the universe had instant contemporary classic statuse, even incorporating the tritone or "devil in music" interval of the augmented fourth as a crucial element. Exuberance came to the fore in the encore, Qhawe (Hero), more familiar, but I'd listen to that any amount of times.

Had Dunne and Tourish been reprising the former's arrangement of the Goldberg Variations over several nights, I'd have gone again. Astonishingly, they gave two performances within an hour of each other, but you could see how brio carried them through. What a privilege to be among the 32-strong audience -significant number in the light of what the two arias and variations add up to - in the perfectly symmetrical saloon of the Casino, designed in the 1750s by William Chambers for James Caulfeild, Fourth Viscount Charlemont - all that remains of a once-sizeable estate.

Accordion Bach in the Casino of MarinoBach confounds the symmetries of his mighty instrumental work, as the charismatic Dunne explained in a winning short talk before the performance, demonstrating the variety of the canons every three variations. Who could have anticipated the sheer sonic beauty of the two accordions in the Aria, as moving as I've ever heard it, with special emotion (but never too much) brought to its return after an epic journey? Less surprising, perhaps, was the kinship of so many variations with folk dance, gigues/jigs especially; it felt wrong to just sit. Tourish is from Donegal, a member of the band Altan, and yet he adapted perfectly to the idiom. It's possible, as others have shown, to play the Goldbergs on one accordion, but as Dunne pointed out, who'd want to when it's possible to have so much fun sharing the counterpoint, ricocheting phrases back and forth.

Virtuosity alternated perfectly with reflection, big washes of sound with the subtlest gradations. Most of the time one just found oneself smiling, even laughing; it was some compensation for the lady in the front row who didn't exactly rush to silence her mobile phone - "it's for you-oo" quipped Dunne at the end of a variation - the man with the habitual uncovered cough and the near-wrecking of the G minor jewel by my neighbour that two folk in front of me shared the ecstasy, rollicking and joyful during the lively majority of variations. Shifting skyscapes through the big window behind the players added further to the soaring of spirits. Grateful for the timing that allowed me to get to the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir's latest programme at the National Concert Hall, I was glad that further perfection of another kind came hand in glove with calm after all the highly-charged emotions. But that's another story. The DICMF continues this weekend with further innovation, including a concert of Errolyn Wallen's music. I wish I could stay to hear it all, but Aldeburgh calls.

A selection from the Goldberg Variations recorded by Dermot Dunne and Martin Tourish in 2021

Who could have anticipated the sheer sonic beauty of the two accordions in Bach's Aria, as moving as I've ever heard it?


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Thank you David for reminding me of two wonderful performances, and especially for including the clip of the Goldberg Variations - a real treat to listen again.....

We're lucky to have that, Karen, and I'm told a recording is imminent. They must of course bring their tour de force to London too.

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