Monday 20 November 2017

Classical: The night soprano Ann brought the house down

Ann Murray: a glorious career
Ann Murray: a glorious career

George Hamilton

Among the many 2016 celebrations was one held in London to showcase the part played by Irish culture in Britain. It was held at the Wigmore Hall in the West End, a venue managed by a native of Limerick, John Gilhooly. The concert, which was broadcast live both on RTÉ Lyric fm and BBC Radio 3, was John's idea - presenting a sample of the whole spectrum of Irish musical achievement on the one stage.

So there were Schubert Lieder performed by Irish artists, and there was also a focus on traditional Irish songs. Alongside Galway Bay and The Salley Gardens, there was room for a touch of humour. Ann Murray - "magnificent in a shock of green satin" as The Observer noted - "brought the house down" with "a dazzle of patter-song doggerel". The reference was to Ann's performance of the perennial parlour favourite, Phil the Fluter's Ball.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, you can still enjoy her performance that April evening in London because the event was streamed live by Wigmore Hall - Ann's gloriously and irreverently unerring interpretation is there as the concert reaches its climax three hours and 30 minutes in.

Though it was a stellar Irish cast performing on the night, Ann Murray gets special mention because today is her birthday.

She was born in Dublin in 1949, and as she says herself, it was her mother who discovered early on that her little girl could sing.

So, at the age of seven, Ann became a founder member of the Young Dublin Singers - a crew that included the singer Alma Carroll as well as three youngsters who'd go on to become known in the world of entertainment as Maxi, Dick and Twink.

Ann went to board at St Louis in Monaghan and sang in the choir there. Music and arts were her chosen subjects when she moved on to UCD in 1967, but England beckoned.

A string of successes at the Feis Ceoil earned her an audition at the Royal College of Music in Manchester. She won a scholarship to study there with the renowned professor Frederic Cox - one of Europe's top singing teachers at the time.

This was the springboard for a hugely successful international career, one that has taken her all over Europe and garnered her a veritable array of decorations along the way.

She has been honoured by Britain's Queen Elizabeth for her services to music. She holds an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland and is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music.

In addition, she is a Kammersängerin of Munich's Bavarian State Opera - the title it awards distinguished singers - and she has been conferred with the Bavarian State's Order of merit.

Possessor of what the New York Times described as a "richly textured mezzo soprano", and as "flexible and vivid" by the German General-Anzeiger in Bonn, Ann has sung in all the major opera houses, with a broad repertoire that ranges from Handel and Mozart to Richard Strauss - not to mention Phil the Fluter's Ball.

Her career hasn't presented many opportunities for her to perform in Ireland, but for 10 years she was patron of the Young Associate Artists Programme of the Opera Theatre Company in Dublin.

You can sample Ann Murray's glorious mezzo on a compilation of Vivaldi's Gloria and Bach's Magnificat along with Barbara Hendricks (Warner Classics). Or, if the mood is for something more in the Phil-the-Fluter vein, her collaboration with the pianist Graham Johnson, The Last Rose of Summer (Helios), is a beautifully rendered selection of Irish songs, including the one that had them rolling in the aisles at the Wigmore Hall.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ Lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday.

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