RTĖ Vanbrugh Quartet
Cathal Roche
Hugh Tinney
Malachy Robinson


1 re:play for tenor saxaphone and sextet 19.58″
2 I
3 II 6.35″
4 III 6.12″
5 Across a clear blue sky – string quartet no.10
6 Im Shatten – string quartet no.11 26.48″



One can cast a shadow, one can be shadowed by another or one can be in shadow. In what sense are they perceptible objects or simply effects? Are shadows a passive absence of light or an active, threatening presence?

Seamus Heaney’s poem Anything can happen, a 9/11 elegy from which Across a clear blue sky takes its title, is the opposite of shadow. It has a statuary nature (its original title was ‘Horace and the Thunder’). It’s solid; its transitions and changes, its events and aftermaths all have the balance and integrity of the built. It is a kind of groundedness, indebted to the language and imagery of familiar myths, in which even the greatest calamity can be resolved in time.

In great contrast, Across a clear blue sky emphasises texture and grain, the abrasion of one surface against another. Although he has confronted themes of war and great violence before, Wilson has shown (in works such as Licht/ung, and his fifth and sixth quartets) that he is not interested in simple monuments or tombeaux. Rather than solidity, he seeks the ephemeral, the after-image, casting evocative but unresolved enigmas for the listener to interpret and consider.

The quartet is composed of very limited, very straightforward elements: glissandi, chromatic scales, juddering cross-string chords – elements chosen for their immediate sonic characteristics rather than their intrinsic developmental potential. Wilson even expands his palette to include two FM radios (which are mostly heard as static white noise) and four wind-up drumming toys. There are none of Heaney’s revelations of legend and language here. Wilson’s materials – almost ‘readymades’ – have been so purged of content that juxtaposition, the touching of one surface upon another, is almost all that is left. The different regions of sound are shadow-like: they convey an absence, yet when they touch and intersect they create – like the light sculptures of László Moholy-Nagy – forms, textures, presence.

In re:play the basic thematic material is again of ‘readymade’ origin. In this case, the melodic lines that form the initial basis of each of the work’s three movements were transcribed from the highly stylised, unnaturalistic speech of Anthony Minghella’s film of Samuel Beckett’s Play. Following Beckett’s directions, the three actors speak tonelessly and in a rapid tempo throughout, and this gives rise in Wilson’s piece to a vocabulary of jerking rhythms and concentrated chromatic contours.

This is re:play’s shadow, one that it is little able to control: those speech patterns darken the language of the whole. The piece is written for improvising saxophonist and ensemble, but the notion of freedom is highly restricted: even the improvisations are drawn back to those same nervous elements.

In many ways, re:play is about this dialogue between freedom and restriction, the individual and the group (a theme, too, of Play). This extends not only to the relationship between soloist and ensemble, but also that between the jazz and classical worlds that this piece sits between. Even the instrumentation – string quartet plus a trio of sax, piano and double bass – articulates that dialogue, and much of the piece can be heard as a series of attempts to integrate the two, and the productive conversations that emerge as a result.

The image of the shadow is most explicit in im Schatten, a work written especially for this recording. It is based on a 2004 violin solo, Eigenschatten, an unusual feature of which is the use of tape playback: the solo violin is recorded during the first half of the piece; in the second half this recording is played back simultaneously with the live performer, so that the soloist is in effect in duo with him- or herself. In im Schatten the parts of soloist and tape playback are transcribed directly for first and second violins. The remaining instruments present an amplification of the first violin’s line, expanding and reflecting it texturally and harmonically.

Eigenschatten itself is an incredibly spare piece. Although it sustains a high emotional charge, much of it is just single notes or intervals punctuated by whole-bar rests (characterising even the most basic elements is a particular skill of Wilson’s). Nevertheless, it maintains a presence through the use of repetitions and recapitulations: opportunities to intensify and reinforce each utterance. That spareness is maintained in im Schatten, but in the echo chamber of the string quartet the reflections and echoes begin to bury the original. As though in a hall of mirrors, the original violin line is heard in multiple distorted and fragmented versions of itself, such that it almost becomes overwhelmed by its own reflections. Subject and shadow become interchangeable: we are back to the blurring of reality and apparition.

© Tim Rutherford-Johnson, 2010


The RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet

Resident Quartet to RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster, since 1986 and now enjoying its twenty-fifth anniversary season, the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet is one of Europe’s most successful quartets, internationally recognised for its beauty of sound, clarity of texture and integrity of interpretation within an unusually wide and varied range of repertoire.

The quartet has given more than eight hundred concerts across the length and breadth of Ireland at the same time as maintaining a thriving international career with regular tours throughout Europe, the USA and the Far East. The quartet members are also Artists in Residence at University College, Cork, founders of the internationally acclaimed West Cork Chamber Music Festival and in January 2009 were appointed lecturers in chamber music at DIT Conservatory of Music and Drama.

As well as presenting the core string quartet repertoire, the RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet has consistently championed the work of Irish composers in concerts and broadcasts in Ireland and abroad, with dozens of commissions and premieres to its name. An extensive and critically-acclaimed discography includes the complete Beethoven quartets. Awards include Gramophone Critics’ Choice 2003 for Boccherini’s cello quintets and Gramophone Editor’s Choice (February 2006) for Charles Stanford’s viola and piano quintets, a CD released by Hyperion in cooperation with RTÉ.

Cathal Roche – Saxaphone

Cathal Roche is a composer-performer specializing in solo saxophone performance. As composer, devisor, collaborator and improviser, Cathal has performed and recorded with many leading Irish ensembles and performers including the ZoiD, Fuzzy Logic and ICC Ensembles, Kai Big Band, Dublin City Jazz Orchestra, Awkward Silence, the Rise Saxophone Quartet and Common Tongue. He has collaborated with Ian Wilson on a number of projects, performing with the RTÉ Vanbrugh String Quartet, Hugh Tinney, Mia Cooper, Cliona Doris, Ian Wilson, Lorcán Mac Mathúna and visual artist Gareth Kennedy.

Residing on the border of counties Sligo, Roscommon and Leitrim, Cathal has produced a body of solo work with support from a number of arts residencies such as the TRADE Visual Arts Seminar (2007, 2009) and Art@Work, (2008, FDK Engineering; 2009, Carrick Cineplex). In 2008 Cathal was awarded Arts Council commissions for the Sligo Jazz Project (Rise Saxophone Sextet, featuring UK jazz saxophonist Julian Arguelles) and for George Mason University, Virginia, USA (solo tenor saxophone and tape). Cathal’s recent performance work includes three multimedia works: The Messenger (solo saxophone and DVD), Guidance (multi-tracked saxophone, DVD), and The Map Task, (quarter-tone tubular bells, CD and two ‘speech game players’). He is a member of Common Tongue with sean-nós singer Lorcán Mac Mathúna and Ian Wilson (live electronics) and is a founder member of the RISE Saxophone Quartet.

His current solo work explores ‘change’ and ‘identity’. He lives in South Sligo with artist Kate Wilson and their two daughters, Robin and Charlie.

Hugh Tinney – Piano

Since winning first prize at both the 1983 Pozzoli and 1984 Paloma O’Shea piano competitions in Italy and Spain, Hugh Tinney has performed in more than 30 countries throughout Europe, the USA, South America and the Far East. Festival engagements have taken him across the globe and he has broadcast in more than 15 countries.

A prize in the 1987 Leeds Piano Competition earned him a busy career in Great Britain, performing with major orchestras there including the London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Philharmonia, Royal Liverpool, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and conductors including Simon Rattle, Norman del Mar and Yan Pascal Tortelier. Highlights in Ireland include regular solo appearances with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and Ulster Orchestra. He has collaborated with the Borodin, Tokyo, RTÉ Vanbrugh and Vogler Quartets, Ensemble Wien, Steven Isserlis, Catherine Leonard, the Chieftains and the late Bernadette Greevy. He has recorded solo, chamber and concerto repertoire for Riverrun, Decca, Naxos, RTÉ lyric fm and several other CD labels.

From 2000 to 2006 Hugh Tinney was Artistic Director of the Music in Great Irish Houses festival. He has taught at the Royal Irish Academy of Music since 1995 and has been a jury member at several international piano competitions. He was awarded a two-year bursary in 2006 by the Arts Council of Ireland to work on contemporary music, and he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Music by the National University of Ireland in 2007.

Malachy Robinson – Double Bass

Malachy Robinson is a dedicated chamber musician, as passionate about Early Music as he is about New Music. Principal double-bass with the Irish Chamber Orchestra since 1995, he is also a founder member of Dublin’s Crash Ensemble as well as appearing with period-instrument orchestras such as the Irish Baroque Orchestra, the Academy of Ancient Music and the English Concert. He has performed with the Vanbrugh, Callino, Con Tempo, Parisii, T’ang and Vogler String Quartets and was a member of the short-lived but hugely popular Nuevo Tango Quartet. His quintet Lunfardia (with Ariel Hernandez, Dermot Dunne, Lucas Gonzalez and Ioana Petcu-Colan) performs a virtuosic blend of South-American musics with jazz and classical idioms and their recent second album Acollarados has been highly acclaimed.

Malachy is a prize-winning graduate of London’s Guildhall School of Music and holds a Masters degree from the University of London. He has premiered many new works for solo bass, by Kevin O’Connell, Ian Wilson, Judith Ring and others, and is always striving to expand his horizons. He is a regular contributor to Dublin’s Kaleidoscope Night.

Ian Wilson

was born in Belfast and began composing while at university. He has written nearly one hundred works, including chamber operas, concertos, string quartets, a range of orchestral and chamber music and multi-media pieces. His compositions have been performed and broadcast on six continents, and presented at festivals including the BBC Proms, Venice Biennale and Frankfurt Bookfair and at venues such as New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Albert and Wigmore Halls, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw and Muziekgebouw, Vienna’s Musikverein and Tokyo’s Suntory Hall. Wilson has in recent years also worked with jazz musicians, Asian tablas and Chinese pipa players and traditional Irish singers; he has also collaborated with choreographers, theatre directors and electroacoustic and computer music composers.

In 1991, Running, Thinking, Finding received the composition prize at the Ultima festival in Oslo, and in 1992 he received the Macaulay Fellowship administered by the Arts Council of Ireland. In 1998 he was elected to Aosdána, Ireland’s State-sponsored body of creative artists and in recent years he has been AHRB Research Fellow at the University of Ulster, Composer-in-Association with California’s Camerata Pacifica ensemble and An Foras Feasa post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Dundalk Institute of Technology in Ireland. He has been director of the Sligo New Music Festival since 2003 and from 2010 to 2013 is Associate Composer with the Ulster Orchestra. His music is published by Ricordi (London) and Universal Edition and website is