Isabelle O’Connell
Diatribe Records CD

Born in Ireland and now based in New York, pianist Isabelle O’Connell has been an energetic advocate for living composers on both sides of the Atlantic. She also plays some mean Messiaen.

Her new CD Reservoir features works from the past two and a half decades by nine Irish composers. The results are not merely a dogmatic presentation of a particular national “school of composition.” On the contrary, O’Connell’s clearly quite willing to program a stylistically eclectic recital. And the Emerald Isle has a richly wide-ranging and imaginative group of composers from which to choose. But here, among their influences, many of the pieces evince a strong strain of minimalism.

The title track by Donnacha Dennehy, is a standout; its inexorable ostinati piling up into a cascades of brilliantly colored walls of sound. BIG, by Ian Wilson, also favors muscular swaths of repetition; but these are counterweighted with contrasting sections that echo the deft colorings of a Debussy Prelude. Jane O’Leary’s Forgotten Worlds explores a more ambient kind of minimalism, with a healthy dose of Far Eastern inflections.

Speaking of preludes, another of the disc’s highlights is the first of John Buckley’s Three Preludes. The Cloths of Heaven (inspired by the famous Yeats poem), inhabits a beautifully crafted Francophilic palette from later in the 20th century, recalling one of O’Connell’s favorites: the aforementioned Oliver Messiaen.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Walshe’s becher is built around snippet-length quotations (not sympathetic gestures) by everyone under the sun: Beethoven, the Doors, Bach, Debussy, etc. It’s a fun idea for a classically inspired mashup. With Along the Flaggy Shore by Philip Martin, O’Connell closes out the disc with an almost equally digressive, but far more demanding piece. It calls upon her to play crashing dissonant clusters, rapid-fire repeated notes and arpeggios, and contrasting passages of pensive delicacy.

Throughout this varied program, O’Connell plays with impressive power, clarity, and commitment.

Isabelle O'Connell


O’Connell will be performing Donnacha’s Reservoir again at her next NY solo show on Nov. 4th at the Music at First series in Brooklyn.

The rest of the program will be music by American composers: John Luther Adams, Bunita Marcus, and James Mobberley.

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